CAN WE PREDICT the future? If we mean by that the exact configuration of world society, or even of the United States in 2013, not likely. The imponderables are primarily the political-ideological currents that are too complex and not easily charted.

Consider: Few analysts before World War II predicted the collapse of the old colonial systems -- the British, French, Dutch empires -- and the rapid emergence of the Third World and the vast number of new nations that are today relevant actors on the world scene. Few writers a decade ago predicted the rise of Khomeini and the transformation of Middle Eastern politics, or the use of terrorism as an instrument of national policy.

The future: What will happen in Cuba after the demise of Castro? Will it be like Ghana after the passing of Nkrumah? Does anyone remember Nkrumah today? Yugoslavia lapsed into a lethargic Balkan state after the death of Tito. Will this be true of other autocratic states? Most important, perhaps: Can Gorbachev modernize and even liberalize the Soviet Union? We do not know.

We tend to project the present configurations onto the future. But, by the mid-1990s and the year 2000, will there be a closer unity of the two Germanys and a realignment with the Soviet Union? This happened in Rapallo, in 1922, when the Soviet Union and Germany made a pact, and the Russians retrained the German army in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. And there was a Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939. Some such possibility is at least conceivable today, for two reasons: the Russians would benefit enormously from German technology; and Germany, losing out in world markets, would have a huge customer in Russia, taking Russian raw materials in exchange. On the political level, this would certainly break up NATO. Impossible? Not so.

One can do forecasting when one has an algorithm (a decision rule) that tells us into which "slots" phenomena may go. There are no algorithms in politics. The world society is like a set of giant Calder mobiles, shifting in uneasy balances in accordance with the winds of change, but the exact configurations are difficult to capture -- especially for 25 years from now.

What, then, can one do? I believe that within a limited frame, one may be able to identify basic structural frameworks that are emerging, that will form a matrix for people's lives. In the past, an obvious example was the change from an agrarian to an industrial society.

What follows are some simple predictions about the structural changes that will shape the kind of world we can expect in 2013.

The Shift to the Pacific Basin

By the year 2013, the Pacific Basin probably will be the center of economic power. If so, the East Asian countries, led by Japan and China, the Southeast Asian nations, and the United States and Soviet Union, will be the major economic players in the world. This is a change of extraordinary historical proportions.

If there is an economic shift, will there also be a political shift? And, if so, is it possible for a country to be a major political power without also, in time, becoming a major military power? Unlikely. What, then, of the reemergence of Japan, of the emergence of China, as important military powers?

The major "line of economic force" is from Japan to Australia. Japan has few natural resources and produces little food of its own. Australia has large deposits of coal and uranium; it is a major granary. We could have here, in a new form, the resumption of the old Japanese "East Asian Co-Prosperity Scheme."

The New World Division of Labor

The old division of labor, which shaped the world economy for the two hundred years from 1780 to 1980, created a set of core manufacturing societies (the United Kingdom and Germany, then the United States, then the Soviet Union and Japan), together with a periphery of countries, principally in the Third World, that provided raw materials and primary products for the core countries. This is now breaking up and no simple, single pattern has emerged. Yet basic industrial manufacturing of standardized mass-production products is being "pulled out" of the Western world and located in East Asia and, to a lesser extent, in Brazil and the Mexican-Caribbean region.

The United States and Japan have become postindustrial societies; the predominant sectors are the service and high-tech sectors. By 1990, almost 75 percent of the U.S. labor force will be in services. The word "services" conjures up images of fast-food, low-wage employments. This is misleading. (In fact, the expansion of those sectors is in almost equal proportion to the decline of doing things at home, especially as more women go to work).

In the new manufacturing economy, the proportion of raw materials steadily diminishes as a percentage of use and costs. In the advanced countries, the basic change is a move away from heavy, materials-intensive products and processes: one hundred pounds of optical fibers in a cable can transmit as many messages as one ton of copper wire.

Raw materials diminish in importance, not only because of miniaturization and the reduction of energy requirements, but also because of the revolution in materials science. One asks less for specific materials -- tin, zinc, copper -- and more for the properties needed (such as tensility, conductivity) and the material combinations that can provide those properties.

In addition to multiple centers of manufacturing, there are multiple centers of finance. The United States has become a headquarters economy for large parts of the world. London, half-way between New York and Tokyo (in time), is also a financial-services node.

This internationalization of capital was foreshadowed by the vast hoard of "stateless" Eurodollars (dollars held by banks and countries outside the United States) that was not subject to U.S. financial regulation. The existence of this vast hoard meant that banking and corporate groups could direct their capital in search of higher returns, even when such action went against the domestic interests of individual countries. As a result, few countries, if any, are able today to control their own currencies.

Some new international monetary system will have to emerge to form the backbone of this new international economy. From the end of World War II until the mid-1970s, we had the Bretton Woods system; a gold-backed, dollar-based set of exchange rates. A return to gold would be a simple solution. Yet, gold would also be subject to manipulation; it cannot function easily as an independent standard outside political controls. Two alternatives to gold would be a "basket" of major currencies, or a "basket" of commodities. A far-out solution would be an international Federal Reserve-type system, as a supercontrol for the national central banks.These issues may seem esoteric; yet, without some new international structural arrangement, the world economy will remain erratic and unstable.

The Political Time Bomb

We have today an international economy, heavily interdependent and almost integrated, tied together in "real time." With some major changes in transportation, it could be tied together physically as well. Consider the possibility of supersonic ballistic aircraft, which would cut the distance from New York to Tokyo, or from New York to Sydney, to about five hours.

While the international economy is increasingly intgegrated, many polities are fragmenting. The process is accordion-like, expanding and contracting at particular moments. In Belgium the fragmentation is linguistic and national; in Canada it is linguistic; in Northern Ireland it is religious; in Spain it is based on local nationalism; in Nigeria it is tribal. In many of these nations, the divisions follow historic "fault lines." But because it seems to be happening in so many different places, one ought to suspect a common underlying structural problem.

The common problem, I believe, is this: the nation-state is becoming too small for the big problems of life, and too big for the small problems of life. It is too small for the big problems because there are no effective international mechanisms to deal with such things as capital flows, commodity imbalances, the loss of jobs, and the several demographic tidal waves that will be developing in the next twenty years. It is too big for the small problems because the flow of power to a national political center means that the center becomes increasingly unresponsive to the variety and diversity of local needs.

In short, there is a mismatch of scale.

A historical retrospect: What was the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt? For some it was "creeping socialism," for others it was "saving capitalism." But the central point about the New Deal is that, without much forethought and planning, it was a response to a change in scale. From 1900 to 1930, there had been a growth in national markets and in national corporations. But the effective economic and countervailing power remained in the hands of the states. What the New Deal did was to create effective national mechanisms to deal with national economic problems: a Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate financial markets; a national social security system; federal help for unemployment assistance.

There is no such matching of scales today. And, given the multiplication of national sovereignties as a result of the breakup of the old colonial system, it is not likely to happen soon. The United Nations is ineffective; the International Labor Organization is even more so. In short, there are few, if any, effective international economic or coordinating agencies to match international economic power. And the national political state becomes increasingly ineffective in coping with this problem. So we see intertnational economic integration and national political fragmentation.

The Demographic Time Bomb

World population today is about 5 billion persons. Given present projections, it could double in forty years, to about 10 billion. By the year 2000 it would be 6 billion. Can we feed all these people? Will there be sufficient jobs? These are the ways the questions are usually put. I suggest that both the estimates and the questions are misplaced.

The main demographic time bomb that will be ticking over the next 20 years won't be the overall population growth but the widening gap between the age cohorts in different parts of the world.

To break down the jargon: In all of Africa, young people under fifteen years of age account for between 40 and 50 percent of the population. In almost all of Latin America -- in particular, in Central America and the Caribbean -- the proportion of young persons is about 40 percent of the population. In most of Asia, the proportion is between 30 and 40 percent. In the United States and Canada, the proportion is about 22 percent. In Europe, with the exception of Ireland, it is about 20 percent or below.

These population imbalances mean that, in the next twenty years, we will see demographic tidal waves sweeping the world. In the heavily weighted countries, this will mean more than a doubling of the rates of entry into the labor forces.

Consider Mexico. Mexico today has a population of 80 million, 42 percent of whom are under fifteen years of age. What will happen to these young people? Unemployment is effectively at roughly 20 percent (including underemployment). The capital stock cannot be expanded easily. Inflation has been rampant. Logically, there are only three things Americans can do to help the Mexicans: give them money (which they cannot now absorb because of a heavy past debt); buy their goods (which may take jobs away from Americans); or take their people (which we have already done to some extent, though many are illegal aliens).

The Soviet Union may face a similar demographic problem. The European part of the Soviet Union is following the European pattern of declining population growth. The Central Asian sections are spurting ahead at an almost 3 percent annual increase. Those areas are largely Moslem. By the turn of the century, the Russian population will probably be a minority in the Soviet Union.

The Soviets are in bind: Should they take populations from Asia into their European land mass, which would be very difficult because of the lack of housing and services and the prospect of ethnic tensions; or should they allocate large resources to expand economic activities in the Asian areas. (This demographic bind may encourage the trend we noted at the outset -- a Soviet move toward rapprochement with Germany.)

To sum up: The key variable is scale. Societies work when the scales of institutions match -- particularly economic and political institutions. Increasingly, these are out of sync. On the international canvas, we need the creation of new institutions, politically, that can match the new scale of economic activities.