Trends Now Shaping the Future: Economic, Societal, and Environmental Trends

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INTRODUCTION

The long-term economic growth that had been interrupted by the recession and post-September 11 turmoil of 2001 is returning and extending to the developing world. Population growth is slowing, and it is also aging, shifting pressures on governments and economies to attend to the needs of growing numbers of elderly people.

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These are among the key trends shaping the world of the next two decades and beyond, according to Marvin J. Cetron, president of Forecasting International Ltd., and science writer Owen Davies.

For some four decades, Forecasting International has conducted an ongoing study of the forces changing our world. One of the values of tracking major trends over a long time frame is that we can see whether sudden shifts are indicators of seismic transitions or merely temporary anomalies or fads.

This latest edition of Forecasting International's report adds three new trend areas to its knowledge base of major forces shaping the future: mass migration and its impacts, the rise of militant Islam, and the evaporation of privacy.

Forecasts stemming from these trends range from the very near term (2005-2010) to medium-range futures (up to 2050), but the authors make no attempt to speculate on very-long-range futures that may prove of little practical use. Whatever your concern, some of these trends will have a very direct impact upon it. Others will help to form the general environment in which we live and work. They all merit attention from anyone who must prepare for what lies ahead.

The authors--and the World Future Society--welcome your feedback.

General Long-Term Economic and Societal Trends

* The economy of the developed world will continue to grow for at least the next five years. Any interruptions will be relatively short lived.

** The U.S. economy has been expanding continuously since the fourth quarter of 2001. Annual growth in 2004 was expected to reach 4%, a level that economists believe can be sustained.

** The real-estate market in the United States remains extraordinarily resilient, thanks to the lowest mortgage rates in some 40 years. Existing-home sales were projected to rise 7.3% in 2004 to a record 6.5 million homes. The National Association of Realtors expects another record in 2005, along with increases in new-home sales and housing starts.

** In spring 2004, new jobs finally started to appear in significant numbers--308,000 in March, 280,000 in April, and 248,000 in May. Job creation lagged through the summer, but bounced back to 337,000 in October, nearly twice the consensus forecast.

** Inflation remains under control, with consumer prices up 2.5% in September 2004 from their levels 12 months earlier and rising only 0.2% since August.

** Relaxation of borders within the European Union has brought new mobility to the labor force. This is making for a more efficient business environment on the Continent. Expansion of the EU by 10 more members in late April 2004 can only improve economic performance there in the years ahead.

** After prolonged recession, the French and German economies appeared to be stable or growing in 2004--Germany is flat, France is expanding at a solid 4% per year--while the British economy never did fall into recession and is now ticking along at 3.5% growth. In all, it appears that the European economy as a whole grew by 0.5% in 2003 and did better in 2004.

** Japan's long-suffering economy is growing for the first time in years--by no less than 6% annually in 2003 and around 4.5% in 2004. Exports surged by 12.5% in 2003 to record levels and have continued growing at that rate ever since. This is expected to slow as China cools its economy and demand lags in the United States. Yet, it seems that Japan will remain much healthier than it had been in more than a decade.

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** China's economy grew by a spectacular 9. …