The U. S. economy continues to chug along, showing strong growth that confounds those economists and Federal Reserve officials who believe that economic cycles follow predictable patterns, with booms losing steam after a few years of heady growth. The boom need not end, argue Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden, and Joel Hyatt, in their provocative book, The Long Boom (Perseus Books, 1999). In fact they predict that the U.S. and the global economy can continue on a growth path for the next 20 years.

The authors do not waffle: “The Long Boom vision is based on sustainable growth rates of between 4% and 6%. We can have high growth and increasing wages in a world of low unemployment and no inflation.” While Alan Greenspan might not accept the Long Boom thesis, after reading this fascinating book it is difficult not to accept that the authors’ vision for sustainable economic expansion is both compelling and achievable.

Schwartz, founder and chairman of the Global Business Network, Leyden, formerly the managing editor of Wired magazine, and Hyatt, founder of Hyatt Legal Services and currently a lecturer on entrepreneurialism at Stanford Business School, have done their research well. The three interviewed hundreds of experts in a wide range of fields throughout the world. One can only imagine how difficult it was to sift through all of the notes they accumulated as they went about their work.

Their focus is to look at what scenario can bring us to a world, by 2020, in which prosperity has significantly increased and spread widely, based on an economy that is ecologically sustainable, in an atmosphere of less violence. Schwartz, author of The Art of the Long View, a respected book on scenario planning, and his colleagues use the technique of scenario planning to identify what the engines of growth will be and what factors are most likely to impede that growth.

More than 6 billion people walk on this planet, but fewer than 25% can be described as living middle class existences. The authors see almost limitless opportunity in helping those who are living subsistence lives to enjoy access to better housing, education, health care, and job opportunities. As they put it, “what can be done with the 2 billion or so poor people in the world? They’re alive, and they’re having children. Are they to be told that the global economy is going to stop growing? Are they to be left to die?” Put that way, one cannot help but feel that the economy must continue to grow and that expansion has to be spread into the farthest corners of the world.

If the first 20 years of the Long Boom were based on technology, the second 20 years will prove to be the era of biotechnology, according to the trio. They point out that the development cycle for biotech products is considerably longer than for high-tech products, and many extraordinary new drugs and medications which have been under development for quite some time are ready to hit the market. In addition to new medications and health care products, they predict that genetic engineering will change agriculture radically, producing higher yielding crops in even the most difficult climates.

The book is not without its disturbing scenarios. The authors paint a very real picture of the possibility of a major war in the Caspian Sea area as countries with different agendas look to develop the enormous oil and gas reserves in the region and find themselves in conflict. Global warming and environmental degradation also loom large as major problems with which we must deal. The Long Boom scenario envisions sustainable growth that is not environmentally destructive. The authors put great faith in the development of hydrogen-based fuel cells as an alternative to carbon-based fuel.

This is not a book of predictions or megatrends, nor is it a book of prescriptions and answers. Rather, it is a call to a global vision that is only beginning to take shape, a movement from our historical focus on the wealth of nations to a future focused on the prosperity of the planet. Long-term economic growth provides job opportunities, better housing, improved health care, and better education for more individuals throughout the world. It is a vision the authors believe we can achieve and perhaps even have a moral obligation to achieve.

The authors are willing to have the reader react to their vision, critique it, and even change it. For the authors this is a work in process, a starting point. They have created a web site which they hope will encourage readers to carry on with the conversation this book is certain to initiate. As the authors themselves write: “Take what you can from this book, and pass it on. Expand the Long Boom idea to the next level. Let the story of the idea continue…” Read this excellent book, and then participate in the dialogue.