10 signals and trends

Gleaned from recent press reports and other sources:

These are boom times for U.S. makers of unmanned military aircraft (drones).

Sample Lab Ltd. opened a  “marketing cafe” in Tokyo that lets trend-setting women see and test new products.

With the recession crimping legal budgets, some big companies are insisting on flat-fee payments instead of law firms’ long-standing practice of the “billable hour.”

City “water cops” are handing out citations to people caught wasting water resources in drought-stricken areas.

Lumber mills that produce woods for hardwood floors and maple cabinets have been devastated by the U.S. recession’s double whammy: the housing bust and unavailable credit.

Some hospitals find that owning up to medical errors reduces litigation and helps them learn from their mistakes.

Despite a 25-year effort to improve U.S. education, the latest high-school SAT exam scores are disappointing. Asian-American students are thriving but the SAT gap for blacks and Hispanics widens.

More than half of Somalia’s population needs humanitarian aid, the U.N. says.

Software makers are scrambling to develop cell phone safety applications that prevent texting while driving.

Inexpensive mini-reactors may be an alternative to building giant nuclear powerplants, though there are technical, financial and regulatory hurdles.

The next 100 years in geopolitical affairs

George Friedman — founder & CEO of the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor — has a new book coming out Jan. 27: “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.” Now Friedman acknowledges that forecasting 100 years into the future may seem audacious, “but, as I hope you will see, it is a rational, feasible process, and it is hardly frivolous.”

“In this book, I am trying to transmit a sense of the future. I will, of course, get many details wrong. But The Next 100 Yearsthe goal is to identify the major tendencies — geopolitical, technological, demographic, cultural, military — in their broadest sense, and to define the major events that might take place.”

I stumbled across this news at “John Mauldin’s Outside the Box” blog. Maudlin hints that the book can be hard to believe in places, but ultimately he calls it fascinating and thought-provoking.  “George’s strength is his ability to take geopolitical patterns and use them to forecast future events, sometimes with startling and counter-intuitive results,” Maudlin says.

For example, Maudlin notes that Friedman’s book forecasts the following:

  • By the middle of this century, Poland and Turkey will be major international players
  • Russia will be a regional power — after emerging from a second cold war
  • Space-based solar power will completely change the global energy dynamic
  • The border areas between the U.S. and Mexico are going to be in play again
  • Shrinking labor pools will cause countries to compete for immigrants rather than fighting to keep them out

————
Related: Anticipating wild cards in world affairs
Twitter: RT @mitchbetts Preview of George Friedman’s new book “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.” http://bit.ly/c8QX

The president-elect will face big problems, threats

It’ll be a short honeymoon. The next U.S. president will face high expectations (which may be impossible to fulfill), a recessionary economy and huge budget deficits. And that’s just domestically. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, gave a speech this week that lays out the broader threats. As The Washington Post reported:

The next U.S. president will govern in an era of increasing international instability, including a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in the near future, long-term prospects of regional conflicts and diminished U.S. dominance across the globe, the nation’s top intelligence officer said Thursday.

Competition for energy, water and food will drive conflicts between nations to a degree not seen in decades, and climate change and global economic upheaval will amplify the effects, [McConnell said].

“After the new president-elect’s excitement subsides after winning the election, it is going to be dampened somewhat when he begins to focus on the realities of the myriad of changes and challenges,” he said.

Of course, besides the predictable conflicts and threats, “there is always surprise,” McConnell said. (Futurists call ’em wild cards.)

Continue reading “The president-elect will face big problems, threats”

Food inflation is leading to food riots

Global food prices are up 83% in the past three years, putting huge stress on some of the world’s poorest countries, notes a recent Wall Street Journal article ( 14 April 2008 ).

Rioting in response to soaring food prices recently has broken out in Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia. In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops have been deployed to deter food theft from fields and warehouses.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned in a recent speech that 33 countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising food prices. Those could include Indonesia, Yemen, Ghana, Uzbekistan and the Philippines.

Some countries say the U.S. appetite for biofuels is part of the problem.

“When millions of people are going hungry, it’s a crime against humanity that food should be diverted to biofuels,” said India’s finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, in an interview. Turkey’s finance minister, Mehmet Simsek, said the use of food for biofuels is “appalling.”

The U.S. government notes that biofuels are only one contributor to rising food prices. Rising prices for energy and electricity also contribute, as does strong demand for food from big developing countries like China, the article said. Aggravating the problem, in some countries food inflation has prompted a wave of protectionism — in essence, trying to keep more food in their country by restricting exports. Also, some countries are boosting consumer subsidies and instituting price controls.

————
Related:
The price of rice is sky high
Riots, instability spread as food prices skyrocket
Haiti’s government falls after food riots

Anticipating wild cards in world affairs

An article in the latest The Futurist magazine (January-February 2008) summarizes an essay by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall about wild cards in world affairs. (For futurists, a wild card is something that was thought to be a low-probability, but high-impact, event. Example: the collapse of the Soviet Union.) Some of the “strategic surprises” they see on the horizon that world leaders need to contemplate:

“The warning signs are there if one’s eyes are open to them,” Schwartz & Randall write. “The world’s business and government leaders will be immeasurably better off if they carefully consider how these scenarios could come to pass and act today to create maneuvering room for the radically different world that these game-changing events could create.”

The Futurist summarized “Ahead of the Curve: Anticipating Strategic Surprise,” by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall, an essay in Blindside: How to Anticipate Forcing Events and Wild Cards in Global Politics, edited by Francis Fukuyama (Brookings Institution, 2007).

Continue reading “Anticipating wild cards in world affairs”