Tess Vigeland: Let's play a game. Based on what's going on today in the U.S. economy, what do you think the country will look like in 20 years? How much more will the national debt rise? Where will we be in the global economic hierarchy compared to China? What if people started to live until they're 120 years old and there's no money to support them? And how 'bout these developments: Ford and GM merge. Steroids are smokable. GPS is embedded in everything. And a 9.1 earthquake levels Los Angeles.
Comedian Albert Brooks has written a novel, his first, where he imagines all that and more.
The book's called 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America. Albert Brooks, welcome to the program
Albert Brooks: Thanks for having me.
Vigeland: So given the debate on Capitol Hill right now, I cannot wait for someone to get up on the House floor and cite what happens in your book as proof that we need to cut the deficit.
Brooks: Yeah, well that would be great. I would love to see that cover held up. But I'm not sure they're reading anything over there right now. So I don't know that they're reading this book.
Vigeland: Well in the book, by 2025, $3 trillion is going just to pay the interest on the national debt. And what that means is that basically government can't do anything -- no new programs, they're barely paying for things like Social Security and Medicare. Are you sure this is fiction?
Brooks: I like fiction that can come true. It's just my preference. Normally when you write about the future, they call this dystopian. Which I don't think it is because the future is not going to be all good or all bad. Even in a disaster there's good that comes out of it. And even in a beautiful wedding, three people are sick throwing up in the hall. So I tried to present a future that has both.
Vigeland: So government is not only dealing with this debt, but cancer has been cured, which sounds like a godsend. Who doesn't want that, right? But the knock-on effect is that people are living longer and longer and they're sapping resources -- so much so that the younger generation is near full rebellion.
Brooks: Right. I have these gangs...
Vigeland: Resentment gangs.
Brooks: Yeah, they're called resentment gangs. And they're not violent, they just hang out together and they're angry. It's a main element of the story and that's generational almost warfare. I am part of the baby-boom generation and I have young children. And I have seen in my lifetime this country go through a profound change where in the '50s and the '60s it was get, get, get and grow, grow, grow. And it's not there anymore. We're like the roadrunner. We've run off the cliff and now this generation is looking down and not happy about that fall. And this becomes a problem.
Vigeland: How much of this fictional book is just pure entertainment? I was thoroughly entertained. But how much is also your concern over what's happening in the country? I mean, how much of this is you saying, hey look, this is how bad it could actually get?
Brooks: I'm concerned. I can't lie. I'd be an idiot not to be concerned. I have eyes and ears and I see what's going on. And I'm concerned. You know, when I was a child, there were no other countries that were competitors. All the countries in the world sort of made our radios and our toys, and that's all they were to us. And that's changed. As China and India move up, we're not moving up in proportion to them, we're coming down. And it's more fun to move up than to move down.
Vigeland: This is so bleak.
Brooks: No, it actually isn't.
Vigeland: It isn't?
Brooks: Well, you know, there's a lot of humor in the book. They cured Alzheimer's, they cured cancer, and they got a major hook into schizophrenia. But there was a new disease that came up called virtual dementia, which is people literally not being able to tell what is real or virtual. And real people scare them and they don't act right around them.
Vigeland: That's purely L.A., isn't it?
Brooks: What? Virtual dimentia?
Vigeland: No, fake people.
Brooks: Well no. L.A. has real fake people. These are fake fake people.
Vigeland: Albert Brooks is the author of 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America. It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming in.
Brooks: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you, Tess.
Vigeland: If you'd like a taste of what life might be like in 2030, at least according to Albert Brooks, you can find the first chapter here.
“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VABEFORE YOU GO