May 11 2008

Economic Growth — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

A variety of long-term indicators – economic, social, technological, and political – strongly suggest that a new international space race will take shape during the next 5 – 10 years. This unprecedented thrust into space is expected to significantly exceed the scale and scope of the 1960’s Apollo Moon program and will culminate by 2025 in a variety of major activities in space such as humans on Mars, tourists on the Moon, and solar power satellites in LEO.

Long-term patterns in the economy, technology, and exploration over the last 200 years appear to have predictive power for the 21st Century. In particular, a roughly 56-year cycle was identified, where macro-engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), significant human explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), and major military conflicts (e.g., Civil War) tended to cluster together, near economic booms. The bottom-line forecast is that the decade from 2015 to 2025 will be the analog of the 1960s, bringing a global focus on achievement in space exploration and a Camelot-like zeitgeist. The purpose of this Weblog is to evaluate these forecasts based on macroeconomics and macrohistory, by comparing them to
events and trends from around the world in 10 Wave Guide areas.

This long-term approach to 21st Century space forecasting is based on the concept of a “Maslow Window”, in which each successive economic boom (typically peaking every 56 years) does two things: 1) it fuels the societal affluence required to spur large-scale technology and engineering activities, and, more importantly, 2) it creates widespread ebullience by briefly elevating society to the highest levels in Maslow’s hierarchy. This ebullience creates the atmosphere of social well-being and confidence vital to undertake and support large, complex, risky, expensive, multi-year programs and explorations. The confluence of societal affluence and ebullience is seen only infrequently in modern times, when peaks in economic activity (following a 56 year cycle) triggered the four great explorations (Lewis and Clark, Dr. Livingstone in Africa, the Polar Expeditions, Apollo Moon) of the last 200 years.

In July, 2007 Fortune magazine termed the current worldwide expansion “the greatest economic boom ever”. Continued rapid growth, assuming consistent government policies, is projected by the Congressional Budget Office at least to 2011. This is precisely the trend one would expect as we approach the economic boom presaging the next Maslow Window. For example, based on economic data corresponding to the previous four Maslow Windows, projected GDP for 2025 should reach between two and three times its current value.

Evidence for the near-term approach to Maslow Window-style ebullience is also provided by travel industry statistics that indicate skyrocketing growth of adventure-type travel and extreme sports (e.g., high altitude mountaineering). Indeed, in 2003 the Wall Street Journal estimated the global market for adventure travel to be $ 245 billion. The beginning of the suborbital space tourist industry is another key step in this direction.

As society ascends the Maslow hierarchy it eventually aspires to fulfill what Maslow called “esteem needs,” reflecting a desire for respect from others and for others, and for self-esteem. Data relevant to these needs has been tracked by The National Conference on Citizenship. Their Civic Health Index (CHI) monitors 40 indicators across nine categories, including connections to civic and religious groups, trust in other people, trends in philanthropy and volunteer work, and awareness of current and world events.

Since 1975, subsequent to the close of the Apollo Maslow Window, the CHI has registered steep declines of 7%, a trend viewed as a “substantial and troubling pattern.” However, their data may indicate a turning point, demonstrating almost a 3 point recovery in the CHI since 1999, with a renewed ascent up the Maslow hierarchy. This is the trend we would expect as increasing affluence begins to elevate society back to the esteem and (eventually) the “cognitive” need levels that are characteristic of past Maslow Windows.

Additional evidence favoring these projections comes from the well-documented “generations” concept of William Strauss and Neil Howe (Generations, 1991). Recently, the changing characteristics of successive generations have been correlated with long economic waves (about 56 years). As we approach the next Maslow Window in 2015, the Millennial generation will be coming of age. As “Civics” they will be especially supportive of Maslow Window space activities; two previous “Civics” presidents were John F. Kennedy (Apollo) and Ronald Reagan (Space Station).

Growing international interest in non-space macro-engineering projects is also a reliable indicator of the impending Maslow Window opening in 2015. A prime example is the proposed $5B+ Panama Canal expansion project expected to be complete by 2015. The corresponding wave of ebullience that normally heralds such an achievement was recently reflected in the national referendum in 2006 where Panamanians approved the risky, expensive project by 76.8% of votes.

In a world plagued by economic uncertainty, global conflict, and natural disasters, major space programs are increasingly popular. Both Japan and the U.S. have announced plans to send people to the Moon within 12 years. China also wants to establish a Moon base but is worried about costs; this is a common pre-Maslow Window concern. Russia claims to be ahead in a “race to Mars” that they expect to win by 2025. The next race to space appears about to begin, right on schedule, and upcoming posts will document this activity on the global stage from the perspective of all 10 Wave Guides.

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