Trends Now Changing the World: Economics and Society, Values and Concerns, Energy and Environment
Cetron, Marvin J., Davies, Owen, The Futurist
An "exceptional" economy, increasingly integrated cultures, and stepped-up action on environmental concerns are among the key trends that will shape the world of the next two decades and beyond. Veteran forecaster Marvin J. Cetron of Forecasting International Ltd. and science writer Owen Davies describe the implications of these trends for our long-term future.
For some four decades, Forecasting International Ltd. has conducted an ongoing study of the forces changing our world. About 10 years ago, Cetron and Davies condensed their observations into reports for THE FUTURIST covering key aspects of the economy, technology, business, and society.
Their expectations proved to be quite accurate: For instance, they believed that the economy of the developed world would be much more vibrant than most commentators imagined possible, and so it has been. In all, no fewer than 95% of their projections have proved correct.
Those early forecasts have often been updated and extended. In this article, the first of two excerpts from their latest report, the authors reconsider the trends from their previous work and focus on major trends that are now changing the world. For each trend, they also offer a succinct conclusion about its implications for the future and how it may affect individuals and organizations, including policy makers.
General Long-Term Economic and Societal Trends
* The economy of the developed world will remain "exceptional," as Fed chief Alan Greenspan described the United States, for at least the next five years. Widespread affluence, low interest rates, low inflation, and low unemployment will be the norm.
* Inflation-adjusted output in the United States grew by no less than 5.8% in the fourth quarter of 1999, and with more than 17 million new jobs created since 1991. With wages averaging $17.90 per hour, unemployment shrank to just 4%.
* The recession in Europe is nearing its end, and Asian economies are now being stabilized. This will improve global trade generally and should boost American exports in the next five to 10 years.
* National debts were brought under control throughout most of Europe, in preparation for the recent monetary unification.
* Real per capita income in the United States is rising at its strongest rate in decades. It should stabilize at a growth rate of about 1.45% per year through most of the next decade.
* At the same time, wages and benefits have remained under control throughout the industrialized world.
* Relaxation of borders within the European Union has brought new mobility to the labor force and is making for a more efficient business environment on the Continent.
* Japanese banks will finally write off their bad debts. Coupled with recent tax cuts and other reforms, this will set the stage for an economic recovery by 2002. Thereafter, Japan should provide a much healthier trading partner for the West. The three largest Japanese banks are combining into a $1.23 trillion institution. By reducing the number of branches and personnel and installing automatic teller machines, they expect to save $50 billion per year.
* Many nations of the former Soviet Union are bringing order to their economies. As they do so, they are proving to be viable markets for goods from western Europe. Whether Russia itself can stabilize its economy remains to be seen. This is one of the critical issues for the future of global prosperity, and perhaps for political stability throughout the world.
* Consumer inflation in the United States has just barely begun to be felt. The price of consumer goods other than food and energy was actually declining in the late 1990s.
* Long-term interest rates throughout most of the industrialized world are likely to remain relatively low for the foreseeable future.
* Improved manufacturing technology will continue to boost productivity and reduce the unit cost of goods. At the same time, workers who remain on the job longer will offset slow growth in the labor force, while the globalization of business will keep pressure on salaries in the developed countries. Thus, both prices and wages should remain under control.
* Automobile sales will slow as the useful life of cars stretches from its current average of about nine years to a bit more than two decades. American cars should continue to regain market share, because the mean time before failure is virtually the same for all cars now being sold. Whether cars are American, German, or Japanese, the same robots are building them. The 20-something echo boomers, or "generation dot-com," will continue to energize the market for sport utility vehicles.
Implications: Economic unification will boost all manner of trade within Europe. In the long run, the newly capitalist lands of the former Soviet Union should be one of the fastest-growing new markets. In the longer term, India will be the single fastest-growing market in the world.
Labor markets will remain tight, particularly in skilled fields. This calls for new creativity in recruiting, benefits, and perks, especially profit sharing. This hypercompetitive business environment demands new emphasis on rewarding speed, creativity, and innovation within the work force.
Part of society's affluence rests on the use or overuse of credit cards. Extension of excessive credit could result in government-imposed limitations, especially on credit rates.
The growing concentration of wealth among the elderly, who as a group already are comparatively well off, requires an equal deprivation among the young and the poorer old. This implies a loss of purchasing power among much of the population; in time, it could partially offset the forces promoting economic growth.
* The world's population will double in the next 40 years.
* The greatest growth will occur in those countries least able to support their existing populations. Pakistan, for example, will have a growth rate of 2.68% per year through 2030; its population will grow from 141 million in 2000 to nearly 199 million in 2020. Ethiopia's growth rate of 3.17% per year will push the population from just under 61 million in 2000 to some 90 million 20 years later. India's population will grow by more than 220 million over the same period.
* In contrast, birthrates below the replacement level mean that populations will decline significantly in much of the developed world, not counting the uncertain effects of immigration.
* A severe, continuing, and unexplained decline in men's sperm counts in most of the developed world could eventually impair fertility enough to reduce birthrates and populations even further than current estimates anticipate.
* To meet human nutritional needs over the next 40 years, global agriculture will have to supply as much food as has been produced during all of human history.
Implications: Unless fertility climbs dramatically, either would-be retirees will have to remain on the job, or the industrialized nations will have to encourage even more immigration from the developing world.
Barring enactment of strict immigration controls, rapid migration will continue from the Southern Hemisphere to the North, and especially from former colonies to Europe. A growing percentage of job applicants in the United States and Europe will be recent immigrants from developing countries.
Russia is unlikely to attract many new workers from the rest of the world. Without …
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Publication information: Article title: Trends Now Changing the World: Economics and Society, Values and Concerns, Energy and Environment. Contributors: Cetron, Marvin J. - Author, Davies, Owen - Author. Magazine title: The Futurist. Volume: 35. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2001. Page number: 30. © 1999 World Future Society. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.