Bill’s Blog March 28, 2020

Strategic Foresight in Action  

This blog strives to be experimental in order to find formats that work best for our readers. While our first issues presented leading ideas of interest, we now try becoming more interactive. This issue shifts focus to describe approaches for putting strategic foresight into action.

ASCE Future World Vision Project  The American Society of Civil Engineering has been conducting an exciting strategic foresight effort in which TechCast was invited to participate. Below, ASCE’s Jerry Buckwalter sums up his ambitious strategic project to transform civil engineering for a world of high-tech infrastructure. The article shows how major technological advances and converging global trends make various “new worlds” possible over the coming decades. When finished, the final program will operate online as a computer simulation, allowing engineers to explore and experience cross-disciplinary solutions to various scenarios.

Invitation to Solve the Global MegaCrisis    The global pandemic and its ensuing recession are adding new threats to the mounting climate crisis featured in our previous issue. With all these hazards escalating, Bill’s Blog thinks it is time to address the broader Global MegaCrisis. We invite readers to submit 100-word strategies that offer a compelling path through the existential challenge posed by climate change, global pandemics, gross inequality, financial meltdowns, autocratic governments, conflict and terrorism and other threats  making up the MegaCrisis. The submitted strategies (send to Halal@gwu.edu) will be presented in the following issue of Bill’s Blog, pooling our collective knowledge into insightful conclusions.

Global Depression  As stock markets plummet due to the coronavirus disruption, the editors offer our TechCast forecast on Global Depressions.

We look forward to hearing from you. The Editor

 
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Bill’s Blog March 14, 2020

Big History, Holograms, and Superbugs 

Responses to our first two newsletters was gratifying, and we were given a small wave of contributions to publish. This issue features fascinating essays by two of our most eminent TechCast experts and our forecast on Superbugs.

Jose Cordeiro Shows Us the Big History Chronologies of Life. This is an amazing collection of data showing the evolution of Earth from the Big bang  to today and into the distant future.  Below we provide the forecasts for the coming decade. This is intended to focus only on technology, so there is no mention of the climate crisis and other threats making up what Michael Marien and I called the Global MegaCrisis. Our studies and common opinion show that a strong majority of people think the present global path is not sustainable. Without a major shift in global consciousness, these powerful technical advances may never happen. Some type of global epiphany, a code of global ethics or a mental/spiritual revolution seems likely within the next few years – or we will face disaster. That will be a major event in big history.

Arthur Shostak Reminds Us that Famous People, like Tupac Shakur and Marilyn Monroe, Have Been immortalized in 3D Holograms that Act and Talk Like the Real Person.  This is expensive, but it should become commonly available as IT becomes “cheap and infinite.” Imagine your virtual assistant and other platforms gathering information on you continually. Eventually they would develop a replica of how you look, your behavior, your thoughts and idiosyncrasies. The idea of “uploading your mind to a machine” always seemed missing the human element. This would constitute a feasible way to immortalize humans and allow us to continue “living” with our loved ones and the public.

Superbugs Could Become the Next Global Pandemic.     Growing resistance to antibiotic medicines threatens our ability to contain a variety of more invasive diseases.  Our forecast offers a penetrating analysis. 

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Bill’s Blog Feb 29, 2020

Special Issue on
The Mounting Climate Crisis  

With parts of Australia now uninhabitable due to raging fires, flooding subways in New York City, and scorching heat in temperate zones like Europe, the signs of climate change are hard to ignore. Some climate deniers are coming to accept the massive threats upon us even now. It is estimated that  300 million people would be displaced, two orders of magnitude greater than the 2 million Syrian refugees that created political chaos in the EU. 

Little wonder that Jeff Bezos recently contribute $10 billion to combat the problem. Even the Trump Administration is getting worried and approved plans to plant one trillion trees.

To shed some guidance on this existential challenge, Bill’s Blog is pleased to present the following advice from four of our best minds. 

Noted futurist Hazel Henderson sums up the amazing and long anticipated move from livestock to plant-based foods now underway.

NASA scientist Dennis Bushnell outlines the revolutionary advantages of saltwater plants (halophytes) that could “solve land, water, food, energy and climate problems.”

TechCast Founder William Halal shows how a carbon tax/dividend policy would discourage the use of carbon fuels, avoid government regulation, gain political support and grow the economy.

Climatographer Mark Trexler draws on two alternative scenarios to illustrate the options and finds that the more pessimistic outcome seems likely now.

Click here for the complete version of this blog in web format.

Look for more blogs on hot special issues. The Editor 


Another Trip to the Future

Vortex

My wife and I recently took a vacation in New Orleans for Mardi-Gras, and it turned out to be another “trip into the future.” Like our recent trip to Brooklyn that illuminated the tech revolution and millennial harmony, this time New Orleans showed the way to racial and ethnic peace.

After a few days of feasting on Gulf Coast seafood, endless wild parades, and frolicking people, the last night of Mardi Gras took us to Brennen’s restaurant for a late dinner. Somehow, we were invited to tour the newly renovated building, discovering a dozen or so lovely dining rooms and leaving us basking in the warmth of Southern hospitality. The lovely meal, gracious service, beautiful setting, and the jubilant city pulsing into our table was uplifting, to say nothing of a wonderful mint julip. The walk back to our hotel seemed to float somewhere about 6 feet above ground, and it became clear we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

The gritty streets and rowdy crowds faded from consciousness and the city seemed to rise into the air, like a mirage of joy and hope. New Orleans is known for its crime, corruption, and racial tension, but that was all gone. We wandered aimlessly through celebrating crowds dancing in the streets to spontaneous jazz groups. I marveled at the harmony among blacks, Asians, Hispanics, whites, and foreign visitors. There was no conflict or confusion. The all-too-common angst in race relations, for instance yielded to a gentle tolerance and sense of community. It made me think of Jonathan Kolber’s book, A Celebration Society, proposing that everyday celebrations are vital for healthy societies.

Our invitation to tour Brennen’s was the first sign that something was happening. My wife and I think of these unusual events as adventures—moments when you seem to have entered a softer, more ethereal realm where things surprise you. Some psychologists call it a state of flow, while Christians would think of it as grace or an epiphany. Everything is exactly where it belongs. Each action, each word, seems right. Time stands still. Simply being alive is enough. What was confusing instantly becomes crystal clear. This was the main lesson I revisited in New Orleans: the power of shifts in consciousness.

For instance, seeing the strength and dignity of such diverse people from all over the globe, I realized that many Americans have racial and immigration issues profoundly wrong. Those who are fearful of foreign faces fail to see them as a vast human resource that is rapidly gaining dominance, even in the US. Yes, we have to get past decades of old wars, slavery, hurtful stereotypes, and collective guilt. But our diverse population has enormous strengths we have barely begun to recognize. I left New Orleans with little doubt the US will benefit greatly from all of its many talented and industrious people in years to come.

We also met some Russians who were visiting, and I wondered what they thought of American democracy? In contrast to Putin and his accomplices who control Russia with an iron fist, here was a society that celebrated freedom and openness. Are Russians envious? Resentful? Will they outgrow their Cold War defensiveness and join the modern world? What would it take for Russians to make this mental shift?

We live in a changing world of exploding complexity, struggling to adapt to a confluence of crises like climate change, energy, financial instability, political gridlock, terrorism, etc.. Today’s institutions, living habits, educational systems—and the very ideas, values, and beliefs that support all this—are increasingly outmoded.  The key to making the transition to a sustainable world lies in such small, everyday shifts in individual consciousness, and a few big shifts too

My Trip to the Future: Technology, Diversity, and Community

Rora

I spent a week in Brooklyn recently for my daughter’s wedding, and I came back thinking I had seen the future.

Brooklyn is not an easy place to live. My wife and I found a loft that was a bit gritty, but we wanted to share the life of my daughter and her new husband who live in a loft. It turned out to be quite interesting. One may have to face concrete floors, but oriental rugs give them a comfortable look. Exposed plumbing and heating, and walls of uncertain shape and color can be off-putting — until one realizes it’s a metaphor for the messy nature of modern life. One is forced to learn how to float serenely above the rubble.

The most striking aspect of my visit was to see how millennials like my daughter have formed a life of diversity. The wedding was a rich mélange of wildly different lifestyles, clothing, races, genders, occupations, and anything else one might imagine. There was a lovely young woman in a flowing gown, a black man with dreadlocks in a white suit and red tie, unshaven men wearing cargo shorts, people in business clothes, all manner of hair and sexual orientations. This community of the young got along so well that it seemed perfectly normal. No conflict, no cliques, no stress. This looked like the future, and it gave me hope.

One reason for this blissful coexistence is widespread information. They live in a rarified world where smart phones connect everyone together constantly. Travel by Uber-like car services is called up on demand. Places to stay are arranged on the spot using AirBnB. Any question answered with Google. Destination mapped with GPS systems. Food and groceries are just an email away. Texting is like breathing. They sleep with their phones, take them into the bath, and even to bed. One wonders what to expect when the next generation of IT beyond smart phones comes along?

There are many different Brooklyns, with wildly varying cultures, so it is hard to generalize. The Brooklyn of my daughter’s millennial crowd is just one element in this rich mix, but I think it’s the Brooklyn of the future, the America of the future, and even the world of the future. It’s a world of constant contact with everyone and everything, celebrated by a wild mixture of cultures, and held together by strong pockets of community, hopefully merging into a global whole.

Not an easy task, and there will always be conflict and brutality. But I think the world is coming together, and I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the future in Brooklyn.

The Struggle between Left and Right in Italy

Porotfino
Portofino

My wife and took a glorious week in Rome, Tuscany and Umbria recently, savoring the glories of Western thought and life at its height in the Renaissance. Apart from the wonderful sights and food, of course, I was struck by how vividly the central issues of our times can be seen in visiting Italy, and most of the EU.
Our guiding principles of democracy and free enterprise were firmly established in Florence during the Renaissance and have now spread throughout the world, with some exceptions like China. The comfortable lives of Italians and most modern people today are a result of this “liberal” culture favoring knowledge, science, human values. While Western culture has been a great historic success, the unresolved clash between left-  and right-wing politics remains fierce.
I have lived the France and travelled throughout Europe, and I find that life in most of the EU is roughly as good as in the US. Italian roads, transportation, government services, and most aspects of public life are excellent, for instance. With some exceptions, Italians generally live well with little poverty and crime in lovely environments. This makes it very difficult for anti-government critics to condemn “European Socialism.”  Considering all aspects of life quality, EU nations usually excel, with the US down the list with less advanced nations.
This euphoria was punctured when checking into the airport at Rome to return to DC. We faced a harrowing 5 hour ordeal of struggling through a labyrinthine snake line of thousands backed up behind a wall of confused security agents. Our flight had to be delayed almost 2 hours to get passengers aboard, which then cascaded down to hundreds of missed connections.
This is just a single incident, of course, but it show how it is possible to accept such horrible service as something that one has to endure.  It highlights the pervasive problem of bureaucracy that permeates all societies. The agents were struggling to get each passenger to unload their bags to gather all “electronics” (hair dryers, cell phones, attachments, cords, etc) into a single plastic bag. While all this attention is focused on such relatively minor details, studies on tests of airport security show a strong majority of attempts to pass guns and knifes are successful.
I am happy to report that this problem of excessive bureaucracy was in sharp contrast to our reception at US security coming home. As I told one of the TSA agents when arriving at Reagan National Airport in DC, “Italian airport security makes you look good.” Bright and alert, well-trained and competent, they whisked us through, highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit that Americans strive to cultivate. The irony is that Italians are masters of enterprise at the business level. The nations is flooded with thriving shops, small companies, and large global corporations.
That’s the main point to be made by this little anecdote. We live our daily lives balancing the costs of excessive market freedom advocated by conservatives against the costs of excessive government bureaucracy from liberal programs. Europeans enjoy the comfortable lives of social democracy, but they suffer a loss of freedom, innovation and bureaucratic governments. American society rightly celebrates this entrepreneurial dimension (think Steve Jobs), but we are horrible at public services and sound regulation. The US remains alone in not providing universal health care, child support, parental leave, and other common services.
One of the greatest challenges of our time is to reconcile the conflict between left and right to the benefit of both political wings. In the US, Republicans are once again peddling their snake oil of more tax cuts and slashing government. In the Reagan and Bush eras, this exploded the national debt, emptied out the middle class, and produced market failures like the 2008 financial collapse. The Democrats are again proposing government actions to revitalize the middle class with better education, tax breaks, infrastructure spending, and the like. Well-intended, but this flies in the face of ultra conservatives who are now holding governments hostage.
This polarization of left and right is emblematic of our time, with similar conflicts common in the EU, UK, Israel, and many nations,  It is usually thought to be unavoidable, but I think a deeper understanding shows unusual potential. Left and right orientations are like poles on a magnet or battery – the sharp differences are a form of energy that can be harnessed to create power. That’s why collaboration now represents the major source of progress today.
A simple example can be found in the stalemate over the Keystone Pipeline project. A constructive approach would be to “internalize” the social costs of mining into oil prices and let the market sort out supply and demand. The project might then simply fail on its own merits or survive as an honest venture providing net social value. This is only one possibility, but it illustrates the ability of collaborative solutions to serve both right and left wing interests.
There is a huge and growing body of knowledge and practice that illustrates the mutual gains that collaboration can produce for both sides of such conflicts.  But one wonders if serious political change is possible in American institutions. For instance, TechCast forecasts the trend toward “Democratic Enterprise” –  a synthesis of free enterprise and democratic community —  but the odds are slim.  Our experts think there is only a 30% chance the US will make this concept widely acceptable, even though they agree it would represent a big gain with very positive social impacts. Time will tell.

What If Lincoln Had Let the South Go? A Counterfactual Thought Experiment

Although Americans are justly proud of the heroic way President Lincoln kept the South in the United States, it is interesting to speculate on what would the nation look like today if he had let the rebels secede from the Union? Think of this as a thought experiment that attempts to explore an alternate path of US development.

The first difference would be that the lives of many millions of men who died in the Civil War would be spared.

Yes, the Southern slaves would not have been freed. But how much longer could slavery persist after seeing the North free their slaves and with the nation modernizing in the Industrial Age that was taking off then?

The major difference would be to divide the United States into two very different nations stressing very different values. The “Northern States of America” (NSA) would likely have been distinguished by their adherence to democratic ideals of community, human welfare, and the role of government, much like the Democratic Party today. The “Southern States of America” (SSA) would have valued the right of property, free markets, and limited government, like the Republican Party. These 2 cultures may not be quite so neatly divided, but please bear with me as I use this distinction to make an important point.

The two nations could have worked together on common issues, possibly, and they might have fought occasionally, but they could have co-existed rather nicely out of necessity.

The interesting question is, how would the paths taken by the NSA and the SSA have taken these nations in different directions and to different places?

The NSA could have created a more equitable and just society that works together well. They probably would have taken better care of women, the young, and other needy groups, and they would have addressed the climate change crisis. Favoring the use of government to pursue these goals, would the NSA have grown over controlled by Federal regulations and mounting debt, as conservatives warn? Or would they learn to temper the need for control to allow enterprise to thrive?

The SSA would have thrived economically for some time with cheap slave labor, and they likely would have been inventive in their freedom to be entrepreneurial with minimal government restrictions.  The social costs of this laissez-faire capitalism would likely have fomented slave rebellions, and social decay would have taken a heavy toll.  With no interest in dealing with climate change, the South would likely have become near uninhabitable due to drought, sea level rise, and extreme weather.

There are other paths that could be explored, but I suggest this little thought experiment illustrates the perils of ignoring the concerns of either the left or the right wings of politics. Both positions alone would lead to extremism, and they need each other to provide balance and tempered policy. When we become tired of the endless debate, the specter of either an extreme NSA or SSA would be a valuable lesson to remember.

What the Pope Should Tell Congress: Americans Should Strive to Realize Their Ideals

Image result for Images of the Pope

          As a scholar, forecaster, strategist, businessman, American Catholic, and all-around know-it-all, I wondered what I would advise the Pontiff to say in his speech to the US Congress.  I give talks myself, and I think I would suggest the following to help Americans realize their potential.   

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Dear American Friends:

          I am delighted by the warm embrace I have received from Americans, and honored to be with you in this seat of great power. This is especially fitting because I wish to speak with you about the use of American power.

          America is a great nation because it professes ideals of democracy, freedom, human welfare, and other virtues that move us toward the transcendent. Your marvelous technological ingenuity, creativeness, zest for knowledge and adventure, and economic advancement are holy attributes that express the sacred power of life and carry it forward.

          I must caution you that there are signs of illness in the American spirit that do not live up to your God-given ideals. The gap between your wealthy and ordinary citizens is beyond reasonable standards, and it harms your society gravely for many reasons. The extravagance of American life and the market push for consumption is a serious failing when much of the world struggles with poverty, and while the planet’s life itself is threatened.

          I understand many of you do what you can to alleviate these harms, but I think the basic problem is that American institutions celebrate self-interest and money rather than the society they should serve.  Your business corporations are dominated by Wall Street and the bottom line, while your political parties are supported by the moneyed class.

          Money is an essential part of any economic system, of course, but it cannot be the dominate purpose of a society.  I urge you to reframe your political system, business corporations, government agencies, and other institutions to serve others. You will be rewarded manifold.

          Take your great American spirit and use it for good. Please free your politicians from the burden of raising campaign funds so they can do their jobs and do them honestly. Ask your business leaders to include their employees in the conduct and rewards of their work. And please also ask them to work for the welfare of their communities. American business can help the developing nations prosper, and they will be rewarded in turn. Saving the Earth from climate change will challenge us all for decades, so addressing this problem will produce a large and sophisticated green economic sector with good jobs and solid returns on investment.

          I humble advise you that this is the path to the fulfillment of your great American ideals. Turning your energy to others is what we all need to find the Lord’s peace. That is what I am inviting you do with me. Let us recreate our institutions to serve others, and thereby help us all find a better measure of happiness. I know this is very difficult to do, and I am asking much of you. That is why I also ask you to do this by working together.

          Your conservatives and liberals have polarized the nation, but this can be resolved with honest collaboration to satisfy both sets of interests. Nobody today doubts the creativity of free markets, and we all know how essential strong communities and governments are to a healthy society. Other nations are exploring how they can integrate both philosophies into a more powerful whole, and I know you can lead the way. The same polarization of societies is happening around the world, and America was born to take us into a new global era.

May the Lord bless you all. Francis    

Why the GOP Loves Trump and the Odds of His Election

The amazing rise of Donald Trump to lead the Republican race for president is a highly symbolic event, and I think it signifies that American conservativism is in crisis.

At a time when trickle-down capitalism has failed and the wealth gap dries up market demand from a squeezed middle class, why would the GOP support a multi-billionaire who advocates more of the same pro-business policies?

With climate change threatening the planet, a hyper-consumer who brags about his extravagant lifestyle seems exactly wrong in an age of limited global resources and mounting environmental costs.

And now that the Nation supports gay marriage and cultural diversity, an aging white male who insults anyone he dislikes sounds like a prescription for political disaster.

Trump has great strengths, mainly his ability to take on big real estate projects successfully, and he has support among rank and file Republicans. A recent focus group thought him “one of us,” “tells the truth,” and is “like Reagan.” But the odds are strongly against him winning a general election, so this rage for Trump doesn’t make much sense, and one wonders what’s really going on?

I study economic cycles to better forecast change, and I think the Reagan Revolution of 1980 has run its course. The deregulation, privatization, and business tax breaks that stimulated the boom of the 90’s are over and Reaganism is in decline.

The overhyped booms and busts of 2000 and 2008 lost Americans trillions of dollars and still spook markets around the globe. Middle-class wages have been flat for decades while the 1% thrive, ironically fulfilling Marx’s prediction about the “immiseration” of the working class. In a world growing to 9 billion people, the single-minded focus on money is almost blind to the exploding need for good jobs, community services, environmental damage and climate change. These disparities in wealth in the face of mounting social concerns provoked Pope Francis to call capitalism immoral.

In the face of such daunting limitations, one would think new principles are in order. But the lure of “a self-organizing market economy with minimal government” is so great that the GOP can’t forsake Reagan’s legacy. Yes, Trump draws on the public’s anger at politics, but it’s a lot more than that. They like Trump because he exemplifies their free market ideals, even though he’s a caricature of a rich capitalist.

By celebrating this outdated ideology, Trumpmania could produce a conservative disaster. It gives Trump great appeal for the nomination but a likely defeat in the general election. Yet a “President Trump” is entirely possible. Remember, Reagan was considered a buffoon up until he took office,

Let’s strategize this issue using scenarios. The three most interesting possible outcomes are outlined below, along with my estimate of the probabilities:

Normalcy Returns – 60%     Trump blows it by becoming too insulting on a sensitive issue, so Bush or another normal Republican run against Hillary Clinton.

Trump Wins GOP Nomination – 40%   Trumpmania gets the Donald over the top, and Trump runs against Hillary or other Democrats.

Trump Wins the Presidency – 40% X 30% = 12%   Trump convinces conservatives, independents, and angry democrats that he can be presidential, while Hillary implodes.

Trump Loses the Presidency – 40% x 70% = 28%   Trump can’t pull it off, and is revealed as incapable of being an effective politician.
These are just my estimates of course, and I invite you to provide your own and do the math. You are likely to come up with roughly similar numbers. If Trump were nominated (40% probability), I think there is a 70% chance he could not beat a Democratic, so the probability of losing the electron would be 24%. To win, Trump has to beat a Democrat (30% probability), producing a 12% probability of winning the election.

A Trump Presidency may be a wild card, but it is entirely possible, and even plausible. By supporting a comic capitalist who appeals to their outmoded ideology, the GOP is likely to suffer a historic defeat that ends Reaganism.  And there is a small but realistic possibility that Americans would have to accept Donald Trump as president. 

Dystopias like the great movie “Idiocracy” are fun to watch, but reality often beats fiction. It could happen here in the Good Old USA.