INTERFUTURES: Facing the future

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) | 1979

Following an initiative by the Government of Japan in May 1975, a major new research project was established within the framework of the OECD on 1st January, 1976, to study “the future development of advanced industrial societies in harmony with that of developing countries”. The project, now referred to as INTERFUTURES ran for a period of three years to 31st December 1978.

Mastering the Probable and Managing the Unpredictable

The primary purpose of the project, as laid down at the outset by the OECD Council, was: “to provide de OEDC Member Governments an assessment of alternative patterns of longer-term world economic development in order to clarify there implications for the strategic policy choices open to them in the management of their own economies, in relationships among them, and in their relationships with developing countries”.

p. 10: “The publication in 1972 of the Report of the Club of Rome on The Limits of Growth stimulated a decades-old debate, one which is essential for mankind and can be summed up in a single question:

Will the growth in population and in the world economy be helped in the relatively near future by the constraints resulting from the limited availability of the earth’s natural resources or the absorptive capacities of the ecosystem?

If this were to be the case, then efforts would have to be made at once to find ways of achieving another kind of growth which would be more economical in non-renewable resources and less harmful to the physical environment.”

Final chapter p. 423

“A starting point

If the many challenges which the advanced industrial societies will have to meet in the next half-century are to be progressively mastered, nothing is more vital than the establishment in the foremost societies of a solid political leadership capable of taking into account both the long-term issues and the interdependence between the various areas.

Yet the fact has to be faced that in today’s democracies the plans which pay quick dividends have more chance of being carried out than other, more important ones whose benefits are long-term. In election campaigns the long-term issues are often pushed into the background or not mentioned at all, since politicians are convinced, perhaps rightly, that voters look no further than their own private interests and their immediate environment. Things will probably continue this way until the political leaders succeed in producing a vision of long-term objectives that will win the deep conviction of the majority of citizens, but conversely those same political leaders will need an essential minimum of support from the population in order to embark on this course.

The possible futures described in this report show not only the importance of political dialogue in the democracies of the developed countries, but also the value of informing the public very extensively about trends in the world as a whole.

Scientific circles, the education system and the media should help in this priority task.

  • Where the scientists are concerned, it is not a question of their setting up as specialists in fields other than their own, but of helping as objectively as possible to inform the public of the contribution which the physical, biological or social sciences can make to an understanding of world issues.
  • The education system is a key element of modern democratic societies. In a world of growing interdependence, a knowledge of foreign countries, different cultures and other languages is as crucial for the continental nations like the United States as for the small OECD countries. Furthermore, in societies where the challenges of the future are liable to be political, economic and social, it is probably necessary to think again about how to combine the sound and precise technical training that international competition demands with the outward orientation necessary for a citizen of a democratic country.
  • Finally, the mass media have a responsibility in regard to dissemination of information, critical assessment of policies and introduction of constructive proposals. Often they have simply picked on the sensational aspects of the issues of the future, be it to announce the end of the world or to reassure the uneasy, but they need to do more than disseminate futurological trivia. They must contribute to a realisation by the citizens of developed countries of the tasks that await them and the problems they will have to resolve.

The democratic systems of industrial societies have deep and secure roots. Despite their inadequacies they should show themselves able to face up to the possibilities the future holds. They can ensure that no process of ageing, sclerosis or withdrawal threatens those societies in their coexistence with the young societies of the Third World and with the socialist world of East Europe.

This report will have achieved its aim if it succeeds in convincing the main active forces in the developed countries to undertake extensive efforts to spread the word about the challenges the future. Not to develop a sort of resignation to the inevitable, but to generate creative responses. Even if many questions remain unanswered or if some of the points of view expressed are debatable, the work of INTERFUTURES should be the starting point for increased allowance for the long term in the policies of governments. For this, wo things are necessary:

  • That each country, on the basis of this report, look searchingly into the specific long-term issues with which it will be confronted and then undertake the necessary additional studies.
  • That the OECD countries then consult one another on the policy conclusions they have drawn from this vast investigation of the long term.”

Report: Interfutures; Facing the future