Forecasting Threats Like Ebola

Eleven months into the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, there have been more than 9,200 suspected cases and 4,500 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.5 times that many have gone unreported and warns that there could be up to 10,000 new cases each week by December. At the current rate of spread, there could be 6 million infections by early April 2015 and over 6 billion by the following Halloween.

In Vietnam, Myanmar, and several major Chinese cities, health workers are screening international visitors for fever before they are allowed to leave the airport, though there has not been a single case of Ebola in Asia.

In the US, Congressional leaders are calling for a ban on travel to West Africa. President Obama found it necessary to warn that Americans “can’t give in to hysteria or fear” over Ebola and appointed a “czar” to deal with the crisis.

A few infectious-disease specialists have speculated that Ebola could mutate into a form that spreads through the air. “It’s the single greatest concern I’ve ever had in my 40-year public health career,” says Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota. If Ebola can be caught from a cough or sneeze, that would be a nightmare, and a catastrophic global pandemic would be all but guaranteed.

Is the global pandemic envisioned by TechCast’s Wild Card already at hand? Our forecasts offer some perspective on the odds for Ebola and other pandemics. The TechCast panel of experts estimates a 22-percent probability that “A new pandemic devastates a major region, destabilizing global society.” They also think the impact would be serious, measuring -4 on a scale of -10 to + 10.

Although an Ebola pandemic is possible, these estimates suggest that it is unlikely there will be 6 million infections. The Ebola outbreak spread because of basic mistakes. WHO experts in Africa downplayed the risks in reports to headquarters. Many countries were slow to react. Budget cuts at WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control impaired their preparations and hampered their response. In general, the world was unequipped for a major outbreak of a disease formerly limited to isolated villages in Africa.

This has changed dramatically. WHO estimated it would cost $600 million to end the epidemic. Governments and philanthropists have pledged nearly $2.1 billion. Funding for CDC’s work on Ebola has been restored. Experimental drugs from the U.S. and China are on their way to Africa, and development work has been ramped up.

As a result, there has been major progress against the epidemic. WHO has declared both Senegal and Nigeria free of Ebola. Success in Nigeria is especially good news. The slums of Lagos, variously estimated at between 15 and 25 million people, were considered the worst danger zone for a pandemic.

No matter how many new patients appear in December, the balance clearly is tipping. Ebola will be controlled long before infections soar into the millions.

The real danger comes from superbugs that develop resistance to antibiotics. It is widely believed that the excessive use of penicillin and other drugs for minor medical problems, and especially in livestock, is promoting the development of far more ferocious bacteria that could devastate modern societies. TechCast experts estimate a 38-percent probability that “Antibiotic-resistant superbugs become common threats to health.”

These TechCast estimates are just that—expert estimates—but they help give us a better basis for our judgments and actions. In the case of today’s Ebola outbreak, they suggest the dangers are manageable and there is no cause for panic. They also remind us there are far more likely and enduring health concerns, like superbugs, that deserve our attention.

For more forecasts, See

Testing Forecast Repeatability: Before and After Data on the Move from to


TechCast’s recent move from its 6th generation website ( to its new 7th gen site ( offered a rare opportunity to test the repeatability of forecast data.

As the move was approaching, we captured one of the last data sets from the old site on Jan 29, 2014. The extensive background data framing each forecast (research breakthroughs, applications, new ventures, adoption levels, etc. organized into trends) was transferred to the new site, but we decided to drop the old expert estimates and have experts enter new estimates from scratch.  Below is a summary of forecasts from the Jan 29 data (Before) and the most recent data (After) on Oct 13, 2014.




3-D Printing 2017 2017 0
Cloud/Grid 2016 2017 +1
Space Tourism 2015 2018 +3
Intelligent Web 2017 2018 +1
Climate Control 2022 2018 -4
E-Government 2017 2019 +2
Global Brain 2017 2019 +2
Fuel Cell Cars 2019 2019 0
Biometrics 2018 2020 +2
Virtual Education 2018 2020 +2
E-Healthcare 2018 2021 +3
Intelligent Interface 2019 2021 +2
Green Economy 2020 2021 +1
Internet of Things 2020 2021 +1
Hybrid Cars 2019 2021 +2
Synthetic Biology 2023 2022 -1
Small Vehicles 2023 2022 -1
Virtual Reality 2019 2022 +3
Intelligent Cars 2021 2022 +1
Commercial Space 2023 2023 0
Power Storage 2020 2023 +3
Precision Farming 2021 2023 +2
Water Purification 2028 2023 -5
AI 2024 2024 0
GMO Crops 2021 2024 +3
Nanotechnology 2022 2024 +2
Smart Grids 2024 2025 +1
Aquaculture 2025 2025 0
Modular Buildings 2026 2025 +1
Replacement Organs 2026 2026 0
Personalized Medicine 2025 2026 +1
Smart Robots 2026 2027 +1
Alternative Energy 2025 2027 +2
Next Gen Computing 2025 2027 +2
Cancer Cure 2029 2029 0
High-Speed Rail 2030 2029 -1
Thought Power 2025 2030 +5
Gene Therapy 2029 2031 +2
Organic Farming 2025 2031 +6
Solar Satellites 2036 2031 -5
Humans On Mars 2037 2033 -4
Moon Base 2035 2034 -1
Neurotechnology 2031 2034 +3
Child Traits 2034 2035 +1
Life Extension 2040 2037 -3
Star Travel 2073 2055 -18

MEAN CHANGE = +.38 years

Note:  Forecasts are for varying adoption levels.


This simple test is a good way to check repeatability of a research method. It is often thought that such results are “anchored” by the existing forecast data, which is another way of saying experts are “biased” by the present results. The resulting mean error of .38 years seems remarkably small, especially considering that the average forecast has a time horizon of at least 10 years out.

Repeatability is not the same as accuracy, of course, and that’s where our annual accuracy studies come in, We have found from previous studies that TechCast accuracy is on the order of +3/-1 years at about ten years out. That is, there is a tendency for experts to be over optimistic by about 3 years and under optimistic by about 1 year. This tendency toward optimism is well-reported in the literature on forecasting. We call this “forecast creep” – the tendency for forecasts to slowly creep into the future by about 3 years over a ten year horizon.

Since the elapsed time between our Before and After data is about 9 months (Jan to Oct), forecast creep probably accounts for significant portion of the .38 years error. We also note that another form of the anchoring likely accounts for this repeatability. In our system of collective intelligence, the background data provides an empirical foundation of knowledge which experts use to make their estimates, thus anchoring the results to an accurate knowledge base.


This simple test demonstrates that the TechCast system is remarkably repeatable and robust. The results also confirm other studies we have done comparing results from two different groups of experts, which also seemed remarkably similar. Considering that the expert panel changes over time, and the conditions affecting forecasts also change constantly, these results support the utility of collective intelligence forecasting. There may be a small zone of error, but pooling knowledge is a great way to get good answers to tough questions.


A Carbon Bubbble in 2015?

The bubble caused a market crash in 2000, a housing bubble almost brought down the global economy in 2008, and today’s gushing excitement over new US oil and gas discoveries could also prove to be a bubble that is likely to collapse about 2015 – a “carbon bubble.”

My TechCast Project ( has been cautious about the new energy discoveries, and the following trends suggest good reasons for thinking the bloom is off the rose. Yes, abundant optimism abounds, but that’s how it always looks at the top of a bubble – endless opportunity and other exaggerated promises. Our forecasts reported below suggest it would be wise to consider the prospect of a major oil shock to the global economy in the next few years, triggering a global downturn.

LIMITED     The new discoveries are a boon to Americans, but they only add a few percent to global supplies. The US’s 3 million barrels/day output pales in comparison to global demand of 90 million barrels/day, which. is increasing rapidly as China, India, and other nations industrialize. The new oil in the Dakotas, for instance, is considered the greatest find ever in the US, yet this is only 0.5 percent of global reserves.

DECLINING     It is also clear that the supply of carbon is declining. The International Energy Agency reports that four million barrels are being depleted every day, and the rate of loss is increasing. The US Energy Information Administration thinks oil and coal seem to be flattening and gas is likely to peak in a decade or two. (MIT Technology Review, Jul 3, 2013) Shale gas only produces about 1 percent of transport fuel, even while the first gas mines are now declining. Some think gas will peak in a decade. (Atlantic, May, 2013)

OVERSTATED    There is also evidence that energy companies are overstating the supply to discourage competition from alternative energy. Shell’s head of exploration stated: “I am sick and tired of lying about the extent of our reserves.” Because of low output, Shell’s $24 billion investment in unconventional oil and gas in North America has been disappointing. The outgoing CEO said “Unconventionals did not play out as planned.” (Guardian, Mar 28, 2014)

ENVIRONMENT BACKLASH   This imbalance between growing demand and declining supply is likely to worsen as environmental limits press back. With climate change becoming serious, our Social Trends cite dozens of major protests as people demand environmental protections, carbon taxes, and other changes to curtail carbon use. Economist Jeffery Sachs predicts the next spate of big hurricanes, droughts, fires, and sea level rise will foment a revolt against coal, gas, and oil. (Washington Post, Nov 17, 2013)

IN THE FOOTHILLS NOW    Other new carbon sources are coming online as fracking spreads to some nations, potential deposits in the Arctic Circle become available with global warming, and energy efficiencies keep increasing. But these are like foothills in the huge mountain of carbon we have exhausted over the past century.

The result is that a serious energy shortage seems to be growing. Consider the following conclusions by global energy institutions and authorities:

* The UK Peak Oil Task Force reported: “Global peak production for oil would likely occur within the decade, very likely by 2015.” (Markpg, Apr 4, 2013)
* The International Energy Agency finds “Global oil production will drop 1% a year from 2015 on… supply would fall short in 2015.” (IEA, May 12, 2014)
* Geologist and energy expert Dr. Jeremy Leggett thinks “systemic energy risks could trigger a global crash sometime between 2015 and 2020.” (Guardian, Mar 28, 2014)

If the carbon bubble were to burst, this new oil shock would likely coincide with an overheated stock market that is also heading for a major correction. Equity prices are reaching the same atmospheric price/earnings ratios that preceded the crashes of 2000 and 2008, and the piercing of this carbon bubble could serve as the trigger for the next global downturn.

On the other side of the bubble, what seemed an endless supply of oil and gas may be viewed more accurately as limited, costly, and dirty remnants of a fading energy past. The declining cost of alternatives is even now disrupting markets for carbon fuels. See our recent breakthrough Solar Taking Off. In our forecast on Alternative Energy, TechCast experts estimate that 30 percent of global energy will come from alternative sources in one decade, about 2025, taking renewable energy mainstream.

Is Soft Power a Breakthrough?

My TechCast Project ( has published breakthroughs for years, usually for emerging technologies. This is our first “social breakthrough”—social trends that reach a critical tipping point that transforms society. Think of the Collapse of Communism, the Women’s Movement, and the Tea Party.

President Obama’s foreign policy raises the question, “Will soft power prove to be another breakthrough?” When the leader of the world’s most powerful nation shows a commitment to engagement, sanctions, and diplomacy to avoid war, it seems a shift in international relations may be entering the global mainstream.

The Republicans, Big Media, and almost everybody else thinks Obama is timid in foreign policy, while many love Putin’s show of strength in Ukraine. Obama has certainly make mistakes, and avoiding action on crossing red lines has left many wondering “What would America fight for?” (Economist, May 3, 2014) This may not mean that Obama is weak, however, but that people are confused over the changing use of power.

Soft power is poorly understood because it represents an historic shift in international relations. The concept was defined by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., as the move from war to  engagement. (Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics, NY: Public Affairs, 2004). The top ten nations using soft power are the UK, US, France, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and Italy, so Obama is not alone.

Consider some long-term benefits of America’s soft power policies:

SYRIA  The slaughter of civilians goes on, but Obama may be wise not to get sucked into what looks like a great civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. Putin has earned the condemnation of the world by helping Assad continue the slaughter, while Obama eliminated chemical weapons in Syria without firing a shot.

IRAN  After decades of futile sword rattling by American hawks, Obama’s policy of engagement has finally brought Iran to the bargaining table, and it looks like a solution may be possible.

UKRAINE  Putin may be enjoying his display of bravado, but he has demonstrated that Russia remains a backward nation bent on cold war violence. Apart from the energy companies rushing to tap Russia’s gas and oil, who would want to invest in an economy based on extractive industries, corruption, and force? In contrast, Obama’s patient use of sanctions has taken the air out of Putin’s sails and avoided escalation.

Soft power doesn’t provide the satisfaction of a decisive victory, but when has that been possible since WW II? The indecisive outcome of wars in North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan show the futility of expecting triumph.

Soft power is also difficult and messy, and force may be necessary at times. Yet, the idea is compelling because collaborative problem-solving is often more productive than the alternative. All parties can win and it’s far better than war.

This is especially true because the world has become too complex and turbulent to tolerate conflict. Think of the enormous costs of having the US Congress in gridlock for years. And the massive threats of climate change, energy, financial collapse, and terrorism require working together if the world is to survive.

There is also a comparable trend toward the rise of a collaborative business model. But TechCast’s forecast for Democratic Enterprise is not promising, showing only a 27% probability of arriving and suggesting resistance to the change.

We will be following this trend at and reporting on future prospects. Stay tuned.

Moment of Truth: Will “Immiseration” of the Working Class Spur Change?

Cautionary Note:  Although I have published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and or major papers, this article was rejected by them plus the Los Angeles Times and others. So read at your peril.


The fall of Communism left Capitalist nations feeling “triumphant,” yet America seems to be fulfilling the prophecy of Karl Marx by “immiserating” the working class.

 Middle-class incomes have been flat for decades, the Great Recession left 7 million unemployed, and now cutting food stamps and long-term unemployment benefits will devastate millions who can’t earn a living income — at a time when the rich enjoy gains unheard of since the Roaring Twenties that preceded the Great Depression. And this extreme concentration of wealth has dried up the markets that are slow to revive because people have little to spend.

I think this means the ideological focus on self-interest and money that marks American Capitalism may not be unsustainable. As a business professor and a business owner as well, I understand the merits of markets and free enterprise. But I have come to see that the prevailing business culture cannot survive the difficult world ahead without fundamental change. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz said the 2008 “financial collapse may be to Capitalism what the Berlin Wall was to Communism.” 

Pope Francis has it right – the basic problem is “the idolatry of money.” Yet the very thought of applying Christian principles to business seems such a radical idea precisely because prevailing practices are so far removed from our democratic values. The challenge is enormous. I study crises like this, and my experience suggests the following three possible outcomes along with their associated probabilities:

FURTHER DECLINE – 30%   Americans are unlikely to change unless forced by events, which could easily continue the present slow decline. Absent some dramatic twist, look for more government gridlock, financial crises and swooning markets, continuing pressure on the poor, and increasingly hot and extreme weather.

MUDDLE THROUGH – 50%  Palliative measures could ease the pain, like raising minimum wages. And the economy seems likely to grow modestly, so we can easily imagine Americans muddling through. Government approaches to reduce inequality as highlighted by Mayor de Blasio in New York City will not help much unless the business community undertakes fundamental change.  

DEMOCRATIC BUSINESS – 20%   Americans are revolutionary people, basically, and it’s possible they could reject the ideology of money. Progressive corporations have long developed quasi-democratic business practices that include social responsibility, ethics, the triple bottom line, employee participation, corporate community, and recently the idea of conscious capitalism. This broad trend suffers from the taint of “doing good,” but it could evolve into a legitimate model of the 21st century corporation that is both socially responsive and more productive as well.

The Muddling Through scenario seems most likely because people don’t expect much today. But I think we could be surprised to see the Democratic Business scenario emerge — not to be moral but because it will prove a competitive advantage. Studies show managers in 17 nations realized higher financial gains focusing on stakeholders rather than profit alone, and companies that have a social purpose, high customer satisfaction, and strong employee involvement outperform others by 10 to 1. Even Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric who gained fame for his strong focus on profits, recently acknowledged “Shareholder profit is a result, not the goal. Your main constituencies are your employees and customers.” 

Americans are facing a moment of truth.  We could sink further into apathy relieved by our good lives, or we could respond to the growing immiseration of our fellow citizens and our own decline as a nation. The stakes are high because business is the most powerful of our institutions and it largely defines our social character. The shift to more equitable and more productive business culture would transform our economy and society itself, and Americans could lead the world again.

We’re running a forecast on “Democratic Enterprise” at, and I expect to have results soon. Stay tuned.  


William E. Halal is professor at George Washington University and president of TechCast Global. His most recent book is Technology’s Promise: Expert Knowledge on the Transformation of Business and Society.

Stop Arguing: Today’s Knotty Problems Demand Collaboration

The strident controversy over President Obama’s threat to strike Syria and Congress’s most recent stalemate is typical of the interminable arguments that run rampant through American society, the big issues of the world, and our own organizations.  Rather than address the problem, the focus seems to be on proving we are right, and predictably escalating into bitter conflict. As always, the solutions lie in getting beyond the arguments to really listen, to find compassion for others, and to resolve differences.

The Syrian crisis, for instance, is now being approached in a collaborative way that satisfies all parties a lot better. Russia’s plan to have Assad dispose of his chemical weapons offered a creative solution. Why didn’t this idea come of the US?  Because we were too busy arguing!  There are probably many other solutions, but the point is that we will never get to them until we stop arguing.

In my own organizations, I often am concerned to see a colleague object fiercely to some proposal, challenges to authority, misunderstandings explode, and other everyday conflicts. Debates over tough issues are always welcomed. But heated rhetoric is disruptive, so we discourage it by simply announcing “Let’s stop arguing” and take a break.

It’s not easy to give up one’s righteousness, of course. That’s why there is a great need to institutionalize a collaborative ethic. We should make collaborative problem-solving a key principle, train people to work together, and have leaders demonstrate by example. I find that many of us generate conflict with our own behavior, often without realizing it. As sages remind us, our biggest enemy is often not being able to control ourselves.

The power of sheer collaborative problem-solving is one of the most underutilized practices of today.  The enormous challenges ahead – climate change, energy, financial crises, globalization, overregulation, etc. – are fundamentally a higher level of complexity. Systems theory shows how a more complex system requires an equivalent level of dispersed intelligent networks interacting with one another – a “Global Brain.” (See

In fact, cooperation and active collaboration are among the most fundamental forces of nature – opposing the forces of competition and conflict to produce some balance between these two evolutionary tendencies.  Darwin wrote of the collaborative relations among species, although that has gone largely unnoticed, and Adam Smith also saw cooperation as a central part of economy.

One of the most interesting new forecasts we are posting on our website is “Democratic Enterprise.”   Progressive companies have always integrated the interests of their employees, customers, local governments, business partners with the needs of their investors to create a more harmonious and productive socio-economic system – a “corporate community.” If this more powerful business ethic were to enter mainstream use, the impact on business and society as a whole could be vast. Look for the results at

I find it frustrating to see the potential everywhere for good solutions to the big challenges of our time — yet our talent and energy is wasted arguing. If we could get beyond the stereotypes, hatred, and the other ills of modern life, I think we could find endless possibilities for satisfying everybody.

Adapted from an article in Professional Pilot   




We Got It Right: America Could Start Working Again

My blogs over the past few years have agonized over the American Decline, but I was gratified that my last blog forecasting an Obama re-election proved accurate, and I also got the move to collaboration right. Lord knows we futurists need credibility. I think this election could prove a crucial turnaround because the election signalled a move toward toward inclusiveness, facing reality, and economic balance.

The most obvious significance of Obama’s victory is the broad range of constituents who voted Democratic. A strong majority of Latinos, Blacks, Asians, women, and young people all went for Obama, with only white men favouring Romney. After a long history of white rule, America is finally embracing its heritage of inclusiveness and now looks like the rest of the world. We have known that the electorate was moving this way for decades, but the election means that women, youth, and people of colour now have political clout. And Obama’s newfound political strength derives from his special role as a symbol of this diverse new America. Dana Milbank’s article in the Washington Post called it the “Defeat of the 1 Percent.”

The election was also a victory for one of my “Five Bits of Advice” in another blog — Americans are facing reality. Laws legalizing Marijuana in Colorado and Washington suggest that people are ready to move beyond the futile war on drugs that has wasted almost a trillion dollars in enforcement, produced the highest rates of imprisoned people in the world, and fuelled the brutal drug trade in Mexico. Laws recognizing same-sex marriages are sweeping the land, finally accepting homosexuals as full-fledged citizens. And with the confirmation of ObamaCare, the U.S. now joins the rest of the modern world in having a universal health care system.

Most importantly, Obama’s win marks a thankful end to the Triumphant Capitalism that begun with Reagan’s election in 1980. The past 30 years were a welcome move to entrepreneurship and free markets, but the economic busts of 2000 and 2008, the failure of trickle-down economics to benefit the middle-class, and the growing chasm between rich and poor now make the limits of free markets vividly apparent. George Stieglitz, who won a Noble for his work in economics, thinks “The 2008 financial crisis was to Capitalism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was to Communism.”

Current talk of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats is wonderful, but very difficult obstacles must be overcome as both left and right confront the limits of their beliefs. Republicans are right that a decentralized nation is essential to manage exploding complexity, but they have to accept the equally essential need for government. The economic success of Germany, the Nordic states, Singapore, South Korea, and even China demonstrate the superior performance of nations that balance free markets and strong governments. Steve Pearlstein, business editor for the Washington Post, wrote: “A pure market economy is an ideological fantasy.”

Likewise, Democrats may be ascendant now, but they also have to accept the brutal need to curb excessive government spending and bureaucracy. Ironically, the use of markets in education, healthcare, welfare, and other government services could wonders to ensure accountability and innovation.

There is no shortage of inventive workable solutions to these challenges, as I have tried to show on and It’s important to recognize, however, that this is fundamentally an ideological battle of beliefs, and it requires some sort of creative shift in national consciousness. The hopeful thing is that today’s influx of women, Latinos, Blacks, Asians, youth, gays – and possibly people smoking pot openly – has fortuitously appeared just as fresh views are so crucial. There is good reason for optimism again.

Prospects for American Renewal: Will the 2012 Elections Turn the Tide?

The decline of the US is pretty well-accepted now by all but the most fervent believers in American exceptionalism, with books and articles on the decline appearing regularly. The Foreign Policy magazine’s website features a “Decline Watch” column reporting the latest grim statistics, while Steve Pearlstein, The Washington Post business editor, asks “Can we Save American Capitalism?”

True, the US remains a global superpower, with the world’s most lethal military, the biggest economy, best college system, and some of the globe’s most innovative industries, like Silicon Valley. And with the recent new oil and gas discoveries, we are now a net energy exporter – albeit of carbon fuels that add to global warming.

The flip side, however, is that we also lead the developed world in poverty, homicides, incarceration, bankruptcies, CO2 emissions, low life spans, obesity, and mental illness. With only six percent off the world’s population, we control 90 percent of the world’s wealth and produce half of all pollution. The concentration of American wealth and the decline in social mobility is roughly comparable to the Gilded Age that preceded the Great Crash of 1929, and it only persists in a few developing nations.

What’s the cause of this decline? Pick your choice of the following supposed weaknesses, depending on your personal values and beliefs.

Gridlock between Republicans and Democrats demonstrates a deep conflict over the values of capitalism versus community. Democrats claim the wealthy now own most of the nation’s assets and have a quasi-corrupt lock on politics, while Republicans are convinced government bungles everything and is taking over our lives. Elegant solutions are available, as I have argued in a concept of “Democratic Enterprise,” but prospects look dim. Absent some resolution of this crucial stalemate, it’s hard to see how the US can move ahead.

Among industrialized nations, the US places near bottom on the indicators deemed crucial to competitiveness:   K-12 education, health care, infrastructure, social mobility, and income inequality. During past years, the top one percent of earners gained about 90% of all national income.

Polls show that many Americans are woefully ignorant. Sixty percent can’t name the three branches of our government. About half do not believe in climate change or evolution. Sixty percent of adults have never read a book since leaving school.

This growing tension between American ideals and reality cannot continue without entering a state of apathy somewhat like the Japanese meltdown of 1990 that drags on today.  The stakes are especially high with the threat of “going off a fiscal cliff ” when trillions of tax cuts take hold in early 2013. And the big challenges of our time gather disruptive powers as we fail to address climate change, alternative energy, tax reform, decaying infrastructure, research and innovation, and endless other crises

As a futurist ( and forecaster (, I suspect the national elections in 2012 could prove decisive. I think Obama will be re-elected as it becomes clear that Romney’s pledge to reduce benefits to the middle class while giving tax breaks to the wealthy no longer makes sense. Obama’s slump will not help, so It would be more accurate to say that Romney will lose rather than Obama will win.

A serious Romney loss could end the era of “Capitalism Triumphant” that started with Reagan and Thatcher in 1980, restoring a balance between the complementary poles of self-interested individualism versus collective social community.  Even leading Republicans say a Romney loss would be “The end of the Republican Party,” although it would merely mean the end of the “Revolt of the Rich Against the Poor.”

With Obama’s strong political support for being likeable, it’s possible a more balanced political environment could unleash his considerable skills at collaboration and uniting Americans in common purpose. We also forecast the US stock market will reach new highs about 2014 in anticipation of the next economic upcycle starting about 2015, driven by an explosion of e-commerce around the globe and other major innovations. Things could look very different in a few years as Americans find new sources of renewal and vitality.

At the Eye of the Storm: Advice From the Future

        The “Crisis of Capitalism” has entered a more quiescent phase, leaving massive threats looming overhead like swords of Damocles. After being rocked by financial crises, climate change, political gridlock, and the Middle East in flames, the world seems to have entered an eerie calm reminiscent of the eye of a hurricane. This is a calmness we know cannot last  — the eye of a storm always gives way to renewed terror. The only question is, how bad will it get and what happens next? Here are the trends:

FINANCIAL CRISIS   The imminent implosion of the EU is being held at bay – but an eventual collapse is considered quite likely. Astute observers claim the default of Greece is almost certain and would have the same effect that the fall of Lehman Brothers had on the 2008 financial crisis in the US. George Soros thinks riots are “inevitable” in the streets of America.

ENVIRONMENT    The threat of climate change mounts along with the growing ranks of deniers – even as seasons are changing, the weather becomes weird, and animals are migrating north. For those who continue to trust science, 98% of climatologists expect a rise of 4o-10o F in global temperature and 3-6 ft in sea levels.

POLITICS   The US seems stuck in gridlock mode, with no hope of resolution until the elections in late 2012 – if then.  Polarization is so intense that Fidel Castro got off his deathbed to call the Republican presidential debates “the greatest stupidity ever.”   

STOCKS  Reflecting all this uncertainty, stock market averages have recovered to their former highs – but the trading volume is extraordinarily feeble because most investors are baffled. Some breakthrough could send stocks soaring or a new calamity could plunge us back into depression.            

TECHNOLOGY     The pace quickens as the Information Technology (IT) Revolution unites the world into a great web of shared knowledge exploding before us. The Collapse of Communism, the Arab Spring, Russia’s challenge to Putin, the Tea Party, and Occupy Wall Street showcased how IT is relentlessly challenging power. People around the globe are now connected by almost 6 billion cellphones (80% of world pop’n.) – all becoming smart little computers using the web for almost anything.

           These growing tensions are like howling winds in the eye of a storm that must somehow be released, and one wonders what will trigger the next set of shocking events in this saga of evolutionary transition? Is the world approaching an inevitable turning point? Will the 2012 elections allow Americans to reconcile left and right in a 21st Century vision? Can the EU survive and resume sustainable economic growth? Is China likely to steer the globe into an era of state capitalism?  Or will events drive the world into spiraling disaster? 

          Without being overly dramatic, this seems to be a moment of truth. Warnings about market failures and limits to growth have been batted away for decades, and now the problem can no longer be ignored. Mike Marien and I have been studying the “Global MegaCrisis” formed by this constellation of threats (The Futurist May/June 2011). We find that people think there is a 60 percent probability of severe disasters, or even a catastrophic loss of civilization in major parts of the globe.

          Futurists like myself have long tried to understand today’s state of affairs by comparing social evolution to human maturity.  John Renesch recently shared survey results showing that most people consider society’s present state of maturity roughly akin to the adolescence of the typical teenager – bursting with physical power but hopelessly limited by a lack of awareness and a sense of responsibility. George Soros thinks we have moved into an “Age of Fallibility.”

          Whether a teen or an entire globe, the message in these crises remains much the same – grow up or die.  As any adult who has raised a child through the crisis of maturity understands, help is badly needed. People today generally do not see a way out of this MegaCrisis. They may know what’s wrong and what should be done in an intuitive sense, but they lack the vision and will for change.

          I suggest that we futurists pool our best insights to advise the world on how to surmount this mess. To get started, here’s my 5-point summary of strong advice that good foresight can offer. No mincing words because the situation is critical. Just tough love from futurists.

STOP FIGHTING AND START COOPERATING   Cooperation is crucial in today’s knowledge economy because knowledge increases when shared. That’s why business managers have longed practiced “coopetition” – cooperating even with competitors to produce better results for all. Today’s battles in the US Congress, between labor vs management, the US and Iran, Israel and Arabs, etc. are outmoded relics of a brutal past. Conflict is unfit for a complex world facing enormous challenges. Yes, there may times calling for real-politics, but drop the macho attitude.  Articles in the Harvard Business Review claim a shift is underway from competition to cooperation, and IBM is defining the global corporation in collaborative terms.

REFORM INSTITUTIONS   Big Business and Big Government badly need to be transformed for a new world. Because collaboration is now seen as productive, the rise of corporate ethics, social responsibility, the triple bottom line, strategic alliances, women entering management, Internet transparency, and other trends are coalescing into a broader model of business – “Democratic  Enterprise.” At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Henry Blodget of Business Insider proposed a “’shift to a more balanced focus on profit, employees, and customers.” Among the Millennial youth, 92% think business should help serve social needs as well as profit.   Ironically, the solution to government bloat is to instill a healthy dose of free enterprise into the public sector, as many have argued.

GREEN EVERYTHING  Please stop delaying the inevitable and embrace the “Greening of America” as the great opportunity it really is. Blocking carbon taxes, pushing oil exploration, fighting the EPA, and denying the science behind climate change are doomed. The world is in a historic shift away from carbon fuels, and an industrializing world is drowning in pollutants. China, Germany, and much of Europe illustrate how renewable energy, conservation, green taxes, ecological design, better cars and buildings, and smart grids offer huge opportunities for sustainable growth.

PLAN AHEAD   The belief that an invisible hand will magically find market solutions to complex problems is dying (thankfully) with the continuing crisis of capitalism. In contrast, China is thriving precisely because the state insists on planning for a difficult future. Americans should yield their fear of government control to invite federal and state agencies to engage business, labor, academia, and other stakeholders in constructive planning to reach their collective goals. “Bottom-up strategy” could realize the promise of democracy by bringing it into everyday life.   

CELEBRATE LIFE  That sense of solidarity one feels during the Olympic Games is essential for a functioning society, and it would help enormously if the world could unite occasionally in celebrating the gifts we all share.  If nothing else, the Search for Extraterrestrial Life has shown how alone the Earth is in the great scheme of things, so we bear responsibility to make the most of our special place in the universe.

          These are just my rough ideas, and I know they may seem optimistic. Advice is always treated with suspicion – even though it may be exactly what’s needed – yet sound advice is often heard at a deeper level. I invite you to add your thoughts in comments below or at I’ll do my best to integrate into an improved statement. To have an impact, I think our ideas have to be condensed into a few highly salient and incisive points – the TEN Commandments, Covey’s SEVEN Principles, or possibly our “FIVE Bits of Advice From the Future,” or “Five Strategies for the Future,” etc.

          Futurists can claim a special authority to speak for the future because we represent a unique intellectual resource on how to avoid disaster and invite success. We are the reporters, scholars, consultants, advocates, and general constituents of the world ahead, so we have an especially valuable perspective. Let’s offer our best advice at this crucial moment in the eye of the storm.

If Great Corporations Could Lead: How to Unite Right and Left and Save the World

What if our great corporations could direct their enormous capabilities to solving the global mess we have all created – financial crises, depressed economies, political gridlock, climate change, and endless conflict? Yes, business is the engine driving economic progress, but American firms outsource work abroad while jobs are scarce at home. They sit on $ 2 trillion in cash while the economy remains depressed. And they give billions to sway votes. The Occupy Wall Street Movement has a point  – many common business practices do little to help the nation, and they may do serious harm.

Our economy was once powered by the belief that “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA.” In addition to making money, suppose Apple, IBM, GE, Google, Microsoft, Exxon, and other corporate icons could expand their vision to hit this problem head on? What would a 21st Century version of progressive corporate management look like? The following “Vision for General Motors” was produced in my Executive MBA class to illustrate a way out of this mess.

A Vision for General Motors

GM plans to regain global leadership by reinventing the modern corporation for the 21st Century. We hope to accomplish for auto making what Apple did for computers and electronics, and thereby help move the world to a sustainable economic system.

Our first goal is to invite the world’s most creative car designers to offer their best ideas for hybrids, electrics, fuel cells, and internal combustion engines in competitive forums.  This will include other breakthrough technologies in self-driving cars, lightweight bodies, solar panels, mass transportation, and anything else that will make a difference. GM will use these ideas to develop a variety of advanced models that compete internally for further development, and the most promising will be produced.

We will work with the UAW to automate routine tasks, moving employees into advanced positions that are challenging and more productive. Our workers, office staffs, engineers, and managers will be encouraged to form self-managed teams that are responsible for performance, rewarded accordingly, and given wide latitude. Teams that succeed will receive attractive bonuses and recognition, while those that fail will be coached and moved to other applications. Employees will also be offered GM stock at preferred prices to make them partners in the enterprise. Wethink this structure of “internal enterprises” working in a “self-organizing system” will encourage innovation, ensure accountability, and drive economic growth.

Our dealers, car buyers, suppliers, local and federal governments, energy companies, environmentalists, and others concerned parties will be consulted for advice, and they will also be offered GM stock at preferred rates. We intend to involve all constituencies in GM life, creating a community serving all interests  – fulfilling work, customer value, public service, and attractive financial rewards. This strategy is guided in part by the innovative work of our Saturn division, which pioneered in collaborative stakeholder relations years ago with good success.

For example, we will work with car dealers to transform the showroom into an exciting display of great cars and sound advice at fixed prices, rather than bargaining with manipulative sales persons. Like Apple stores, “GM Stores” will offer useful information, help buyers find solutions (even if it’s not GM), show how various features work, help you test drive, and answer questions. Refreshments will be offered and special events held to make GM Stores inviting and profitable.

These partnerships will broaden GM ownership, and thereby avoid the stock market’s demand for immediate gains. We think this may lessen the risk of financial markets, and help make GM stock a more stable as well as an attractive investment for all holders. We will accordingly expand our management systems to include representatives of all stakeholders on the Board of Directors, making GM the first “democratic” corporation in the world.

By bringing these various groups into GM ownership and management, we intend to harness the ideas, resources, and support of our entire corporate community to form a more productive whole. With the world facing unprecedented challenges of globalization, growing needs for good transportation, severe environmental threats, a transition in energy, and mounting dissatisfaction with the economic status-quo, the time has come for a broader definition of corporate management. As before, General Motors intends to lead the way.

 Only Requires Leadership

This type of collaboration requires skills most CEOs lack today, and it may take convincing to get past decades of distrust. But many great companies now practice elements of this basic idea, illustrating how creative thought could change this situation we seem to be stuck in. Wells Fargo, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Nucor Steel, Whole Foods, and a host of other creative firms have been developing this “democratic” form of enterprise for years. The rise of corporate ethics, social responsibility, the triple bottom line, strategic alliances, women entering management, and other trends are coalescing into a broader model of business based on stakeholder collaboration. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Henry Blodget of Business Insider proposed we “’shift to a more balanced focus on profit, employees, and customers.”

This idea of uniting the business firm – bedrock of all economies – into a collaborative socio-economic system would change everything. Social interests could be integrated into business in a productive way. Firms would compete by collaborating to serve social needs as well as making money. Those that excel would make MORE money while also serving society better. And we would need less government as the corporation becomes self-regulating.

A key feature is that this vision unifies right- and left-wing ideals – free enterprise and social community –  so it could help resolve political gridlock. If Americans could realize the potential of this economic breakthrough, we could reinvent business and government, turn the economy around, and possibly even lead the world again. It all starts with strong leadership, and that could emerge anywhere.


William E. Halal is a business professor at George Washington University, Washington, DC., and president of TechCast LLC ( His most recent book is Technology’s Promise: Expert Knowledge on the Transformation of Business and Society (London: Palgrave Macmillan)