Jul 01 2010

Cambridge Professor: “A Great Event” in 2014 … and The Way the Future Really Works

The way the future works has a lot to do with the past — especially the ways that humans, resources (especially geography), and technology have interacted before.

The future’s important because it’s where we’ll spend the rest of our lives. Click .

Here at 21stCenturyWaves.com, the idea has certainly not been to try to understand how everything works.

Instead, we have focused on the following questions: 1) Why do the great human explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), massive macroengineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), and the major wars (e.g., World War I), cluster together — over the last 200+ years — exclusively in connection with rhythmic, twice-per-century major economic booms (e.g., the 1960s Apollo “Maslow Window”)? and 2) What does this tell us about the future of technology and space?

Because our approach provides a new framework to illuminate both the past and future — e.g., summarized in my recent look at the next decade — it’s always exciting to compare it to macro-historical thinking by a first-rate historian like Cambridge University Professor Nicholas Boyle.

Boyle’s book, 2014 – How to Survive the Next World Crisis, appeared this week and boldly uses multi-century historical patterns to project trends in the 21st century, including 2014 being a special year (which is no surprise to devotees of the 2015 Maslow Window!).

Multi-Century Patterns in History Provide Powerful Insights

Professor Boyle’s bold use of historical events over the last 500 years as the basis for his 21st century forecasts is impressive. He starts with Martin Luther’s theses of 1517 (triggering the Reformation) and surges all the way to 1914, the start of World War I. 21stCenturyWaves.com’s forecasts spring from macroeconomic data and historical patterns — especially with regard to great explorations, MEPs, and major wars — over the last 200 years.

Considered together these quite-different approaches feature surprising parallels and expanded insights into the past as well as the future.

There will be “a great event” in 2014
Boyle’s major insight is his forecast of a “great event” in 2014; this potential crisis is based on a generational rationale and the psychology of a new century. 2014 is near the projected opening of the 2015 Maslow Window — a 1960s-style golden age of prosperity, explorationm, and technology — based on the last 200+ years. So we like his timescale.

According to Boyle,

2007 started off colossal economic change which has still got a long way to go …

My thesis is that we have got another crisis to come, and you can already see that in the questions being raised over the debts of nations …

We agree because history shows he’s right.

Every Maslow Window of the last 200 years — with the exception of the 1960s Apollo Window — was preceded within a decade by a financial panic (liike that in 2008) and a great recession like the current one. A good analog for now is the Panic of 1893 and the 1890s great recession; it was a “double-dip” recession and lasted 6 years, suggesting our current recession should end by 2014 and could be consistent with Boyle’s expectation.

Interestingly, today CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf independently supported this estimate by stating that it will take another 4 years (not before 2014) for unemployment to decline to “normal levels” of about 5%.

However Boyle’s next “crisis” might be military. Over the last 200+ years, every Maslow Window has been plagued by an early- or pre-Window war or major conflict; the last was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 that almost led to a major nuclear exchange. But the good news is that, so far, the world has managed to avoid major destruction by these early-/pre-Window threats. And in fact, most actually create momentum toward the Maslow Window itself.

In the 21st Century: Peace or war?
According to Boyle, a ‘Doomsday’ moment will take place in 2014 and “will determine whether the 21st century is full of violence and poverty or will be peaceful and prosperous.”

And history shows he’s right again — although both will probably occur.

The way the future really works is illustrated by the last 200 years. Transformative, decade-long Maslow Windows are fundamentally driven by affluence-induced ebullience that’s triggered by rhythmic, twice-per-century unparalleled economic booms.

For example, distinguished historian Eric Hobsbawm (b. 1917) describes “The Great Boom” which powered the mid-19th century Dr. Livingstone/Suez/Polk Maslow Window, as

the extraordinary economic transformation and expansion … (with) prolonged prosperity … Never did British exports grow more rapidly than in the euphoric years between 1853 and 1857…

However, the decades between Maslow WIndows feature devastating depressions and military strife as the long business cycle (the “long wave”) descends to a trough and begins its recovery over about 4+ decades. Speaking of the 20th century, Hobsbawn comments that

The decades from the outbreak of the First World War to the aftermath of the Second, was an Age of Catastrophe for this society …even intelligent conservatives would not take bets on its survival … a world economic crisis brought even the strongest capitalist economies to their knees …

In the languge of Self Organized Criticality, the international economic/geopolitical system continuously self-organizes toward a critical state (the “fractal” Maslow Window) where major changes — both good and bad — occur rapidly and often without obvious triggers. Examples include the Apollo Moon program in the 1960s and World War I during the early 20th century Maslow Window.

Between Maslow Windows, the international economic/geopolitical system elements (countries, corporations, individuals) interact weakly and typically require several decades to self-organize back into another critical state. (The next one should begin by 2015.)

The devastating “Aspirin Age” decades between Maslow Windows are not inevitable. When we learn to include the long wave in our strategic thinking and macro-planning, their extreme effects should subside.

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