May 29 2011

Gaus’ Declining Anxiety Wave Points to the 2015 Economic Boom

1960s-style economic booms appear to be the triggers of great explorations from Lewis and Clark to Apollo, as well as the largest macro-engineering projects from the Suez Canal to Apollo.

That’s the extraordinary lesson of the last 200+ years.

However, Helmut Gaus asks if our prosperity is fundamentally more a matter of human psychology than just economics?

Gaus, a professor of political science at the University of Ghent in Belgium, has spent decades documenting an “Anxiety Wave,” which is the inverse of the better known long economic wave. According to Gaus (Why Yesterday Tells of Tomorrow, 2003)

If we scan two centuries of European history … a certain number of cultural-historical and mental changes show the same cyclic course as Kondratiev’s (economic) long wave. Not all of them can be as easily followed back to fluctuations in the market … On the face of it, these currents indicate an increase and decrease in the level of anxiety in society, with peaks and low points that correspond with the peaks and lows of Kondratiev’s long wave.

If Gaus is correct, the Maslow Window expected near 2015 (plus all those of the last 200+ years) is caused directly by the mass psychology of an “ascending phase” of the long economic wave.

In a descending long wave, in a period of increasing uncertainty and existential anxiety, the keynote of the state of mind of a whole population is different from that in an ascending phase of the same long wave, in which self-assurance and self-confidence and all other states of mind that are typical of this begin to get the upper hand.

Gaus bases his Anxiety Wave on “the best documented mass phenomenon that appears to be the subtlest indicator of the collective unconscious in our Western world”: women’s fashion. For example, Gaus has identified a yellow/orange fashion metric that’s apparently indicative of a positive mind set, as indicated in Figure 2. Notice that the index ascends during the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window until about 1968, when it begins a steep descent until the mid-1970s. Its decline continues more gently into the 1990s.

Fig. 2. According to Gaus, from 1956 to 2000 the bright color scheme (of yellow/orange) in women’s fashions indicates a “happiness wave” consistent with long waves in the economy

If it is real, we’d expect that Gaus’ fashion-based Anxiety Wave — the inverse of the “happiness wave” shown above in Fig. 2 — would correlate well with unemployment; and it does, see Fig. 3. Notice how anxiety and unemployment decline during the 1960s Maslow Window until about 1968, and then begin a steady rise until the mid-1980s.

Fig. 3. Unemployment in Germany from 1956 to 2000 correlates well with Gaus’ fashion-based Anxiety Wave.

Although the number of marriages (in the Netherlands) is inversely correlated with the Anxiety Wave, the mean age of the mother at the birth of her first child (in Germany) from 1956 to 2000 is directly correlated. As anxiety drops during the 1960s Maslow Window so does the mean age until about 1970 when both reverse and begin an upward trend.

Fig. 4. The mean age of a mother at the birth of her first child (in Germany) declined until 1968 and increased thereafter.

Even astrology correlates with Gaus’ Anxiety Wave. The end of the 1960s Maslow Window near 1968 triggers a steep increase in the number of books on astrology in German and British libraries, which levels off in the mid-1980s.

Fig. 5. Apparently astrology comforted an increasing number of people (in Germany and the UK) after the 1960s Maslow Window ended near 1968.

Because human anxiety is very difficult to measure, especially on a mass basis, Gaus’ data does not prove that an Anxiety Wave exists or that it drives the long economic wave (e.g. Kondratiev Wave). However, it does provide intriguing evidence of rhythmic, twice-per-century fluctuations of significant non-economic parameters in society, that correlates well with long-term economic trends.

Dimitri Maex at suggests that in addition to fashion, search engines might work too…

The idea that fluctuations in the economy are caused by the collective levels of anxiety is interesting but hard to prove. Data on the mental state of society is scarce, which is why Gaus used data on fashion as a proxy. There is however a relatively new data source that holds exteremely rich informatoion on what’s on people’s minds – it’s the data held by search engines. Knowing what people search on and how that changes over time could potentially lead to a barometer of society’s mental state.

Gaus boldly ends his book with 20 future behavioral trends, including the major economic boom of 2015 that is expected to trigger the next 1960s-style Maslow Window and the new international Space Age.

If the rhythm of rising and falling of the long wave in the coming decades is the same as in the past two centuries, we can expect the bottom of the anxiety curve, and thus the peak of the economic boom, around 2015 – 2020…

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Dec 18 2010

Korea, Iran, and the Venezuela Missile Crisis: Self-Organizing Toward a Critical State?

Bill Richardson describes current tensions on the Korean peninsula as “a tinderbox.” It’s “particularly complex and sensitive,” according to Jiang Yu of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The popular New Mexico governor asserts “There’s enormous potential for miscalculation.”

All this is 57 years — one long economic wave — after the end of the early 1950s Korean War, a proxy war where the Soviet Union and China lined up with the North Korean Communists against the U.S.-led United Nations forces in the South.

Surely the rekindling of Korean tensions one long wave after the original war is a coincidence… Or is it?

Actually, over the last 2 1/2 years has highlighted a variety of evidence supporting my initial suggestion in 1996 (Cordell, 1996; Also 2006) that long-term trends in the economy (i.e., the long, 56-year business cycle, discovered in 1989) are the fundamental drivers of great human explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), macro engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), and major wars (World War I) that exclusively cluster together every 55-60 years, over at least the last 200+ years.

More recently, two new ideas are explored here: 1) that “Maslow Windows” — the rhythmic, twice-per-century pulses of great explorations, MEPs, and major wars — are actually brief critical states of the international economic/technology system, typically achieved through decades of self organized criticality (SOC) processes, and 2) that serious conflicts or wars are typical features of the years just before a Maslow Window or early in the Window itself.

The classic example of such a pre- or early Maslow Window conflict is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 — early in the Apollo Maslow Window (1959-69) — when conflict over Soviet offensive missiles emplaced in Cuba almost led to a major nuclear exchange with the U.S.. Other examples include the Napoleonic Wars (Lewis and Clark Maslow Window), the Mexican war (Dr. Livingstone/Suez Maslow Window), and the Spanish-American War (Peary/Panama Maslow Window).

This model suggests the current Korean tensions — including their potential for nuclear war involving N and S Korea and possibly other nearby states (e.g., Japan) — are a harbinger of the next Maslow Window expected by 2015. Plus the seemingly irrational provocations by North Korea resulting in a “tinderbox”, “complex,” and “sensitive” situation, are actually the types of interactions we’d expect as we approach a critical Maslow state.

While it’s tempting to dismiss this model as just another scary fantasy, please be reminded that medium-size wars have already been identified as SOC phenomena by National Aademy of Sciences member Donald Turcotte and his colleagues as early as 1998.

The results we have shown indicate that world order behaves as a self-organized critical system independent of the efforts made to control and stabilize interactions between people and countries; and wars, like forest fires, are SOC processes.

Plus historian Niall Ferguson suggested recently that WW I was a product of self organized criticality.

But there’s more.

Iran is believed to be developing nuclear weapons and the missiles needed to deliver them to places like Israel and beyond. Some observers have suggested that Israel might preemptively attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. And WikiLeak cables indicate that even Saudi Arabia has encouraged the U.S. to attack Iran.

Iran’s growing nuclear capability is interpreted here as a precursor to the strong SOC conditions that will trigger the 2015 Maslow Window. And along with spiking Korean tensions, it underlines the gravity of our current, increasingly fractal, geopolitical situation.

And, or course, there’s even more: the Venezuela Missile Crisis.

The highly-regarded German daily, Die Welt. reported last month (11/25/10) that Iran — who apparently shares missile technology with North Korea — has plans to place medium-range ballistic missiles in Venezuela.

If this story is confirmed, it would constitute a true Cuban Missile Crisis-style threat, that would require a strategic response from the United States.

However, things have changed since the 1960s. Popular Mechanics (December, 2010) recently described a chilling scenario in which China is able to neutralize U.S. aircraft carriers — the basis for U.S. force projection in the Pacific and elsewhere — utilizing a new Chinese antiship ballistic missile. China’s carrier killer could conceivably preclude American naval support of Taiwan, South Korea, and other U.S. allies in the region.

Some have speculated that the recent mystery launch of an unidentified missile (it didn’t appear to be an airplane) off the Southern California coast was intended to demonstrate China’s growing antiship capabilities.

That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that even the Cuban Missile Crisis was rapidly resolved and did not delay — and indeed probably intensified — the 1960s space race to the Moon. The same is true of all other pre- or early Maslow Window conflicts over the last 200+ years.

Growing international interests in lunar development, space commercialization (including space toruism), and even Mars colonization, might stimulate the development of a Grand Alliance for Space. With a little luck, it could reduce the intensity of current conflicts that show evidence of increasing, long wave-related SOC in the world system.

NOTE: Please check out the following Comment for more on why a major war or nuclear conflict is unlikely in the next 10-15 years.

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Nov 25 2010

Images Celebrate Gold, John Sutter, and the Ebullient Mid-19th Century Maslow Window

Since I planned to be in Sacramento last weekend, I decided to enjoy some of the key historical sites — e.g., of the extraordinary California Gold Rush — associated with the ebullient mid-19th century Maslow Window.

Typical of America’s exceptional mid-19th Century ebullience was the California Gold Rush (1848-1855); gold was first discovered here at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, CA by James Marshall.
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(All images by Bruce Cordell, 2010)

Maslow Windows over the last 200 years are usually preceded by a financial panic and major recession (much like the Panic of 2008 and our current global recession), and the Dr. Livingstone/James Polk Maslow Window (~1847-60) was no exception.

The Panic of 1837 was a monster — in 1960 Nobel winner Milton Friedman compared it to the 1930s Great Depression — but in 6 long years it finally gave way to an early-1840s recovery and boom that triggered the ebullience of “Manifest Destiny.” This Panic/Great Recession/Boom/Maslow Window sequence repeated one long wave later starting with the Panic of 1893 and culminating with perhaps the most ebullient decade in U.S. history: the Peary/Panama/T.Roosevelt Maslow Window.

For more background on Mainfest Destiny please see, “How the West Was Won — The Expansionist Effects of Ebullience,” and on the CA Gold Rush see #1 of “10 Lessons Lewis and Clark Teach Us About the Human Future in Space.”

I’ve written about this period a lot lately because it appears that we began reliving major elements of the 1893-to-1913 chronology two long waves later starting with the Panic of 2008. If this trend continues, as it has repeatedly over the last 200+ years, we should expect a new 1960s-style golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology triggered by a major economic boom, to emerge by 2015.

Shortly after the discovery of gold there, Sutter’s Mill was closed. The flood of 1862 destroyed the structure and the current replica (shown here from the river side) was constructed on the original site in 1967 — fittingly during the ebullient Apollo Maslow Window.


The image below is not a cannon. It was used during “hydraulicking” to dislodge sediment and gold from rock walls. The jets of water were environmentally destructive. A realistic depiction of this technique is seen in Clint Eastwood’s popular 1985 movie “Pale Rider”.


The Gold Discovery Museum of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma has a number of captivating exhibits.


I was originally headed up 80 to Tahoe to take a peek at the Donner Museum and the famous snow monument, but ran into an electronic sign announcing the need for chains at the summit. Since Hertz had rented me a red Mustang convertable (not my choice!), I was unequipped for the trip so I headed first to Coloma and then back to Sacramento to see Sutter’s Fort.

Proof of the macho Sierra storm was provided by this car’s snowy roof (and many others). It was fleeing westward down the hill Sunday afternoon on highway 50 just west of Placerville.


The famous, ebullient John Sutter who owned Sutter’s Mill also founded Sutter’s Fort in 1839 (he called it “New Helvetia”) that eventually grew into Sacramento. This interior view was taken looking southeast. I was in front of the Blacksmith Shop (doors on the right) in the West Yard looking toward the fort’s main entrance (near the left edge). Sutter would have been fascinated by the modern Sutter Medical Center in the distance.

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Here’s the Blacksmith Shop. State-of-the-art for its time. In terms of the craftsmen and technologists required to support early 19th century frontier life, the fort was essentially self-contained. It was the first non-native American outpost in the Central Valley. Except for the more benign environment and the native inhabitants, Sutter’s Fort was the 19th century analog to a first lunar base.


Cannons stationed in the second-floor bastion at the southeast corner made sure that anyone not invited to the party wouldn’t crash it.


Sutter founded his fort only 2 years after the Panic of 1837 (see above). Relative to the long wave, that’s what we call — bad timing. And although he was the quintessential entrepreneur, Sutter was increasingly plagued by debt. Here we see the Central Building — the only original structure still standing in the rebuilt fort — including the 2nd floor offices of the doctor, clerk, and Sutter himself. It would have provided the last line of defense if necessary.


It’s clear that everyone at Sutter’s Fort feasted well. This view — from the Clerk’s 2nd floor office — shows the northeast corner of the East Yard. Here are the Bakery and Bakery Storeage areas, and the outdoor Beehive Oven.

This must have been of great interest to the last survivors of the Donner party who were brought here in April, 1848, as the mid-19th century Maslow Window was gaining steam. Sutter’s Fort was near the end of the famed California Trail and welcomed many an ebullient pilgrim who came seeking their fortune in gold, agirculture, etc.


In this image (pardon the screen) we are peering into Sutter’s 2nd floor business office in the Central Building. This is where Sutter planned his new enterprises, worked with his Clerk to monitor operations and finances, and sadly, watched his fortune dissolve.


Sutter’s empire was short-lived. According to William Dillinger (The Gold Discovery, 2006), within only a decade of its founding, and …

After the gold discovery, Sutter’s heavily mortgaged fort and lands were overrun by gold-seekers and squatters until he was finally driven to take refuge at his “Hock Farm” on the Feather River.

In the Museum there is a revealing quote from Sutter to the effect that he would have become very rich if the gold discovery had happened only a couple of years later (~1850), but the ensuing chaos caused him to lose almost everything. In effect, if the normal major mid-19th century economic boom had not been temporarily subverted by gold fever, his under-capitalized (i.e., debt-ridden) businesses would have flourished — if his timing had been better.

Sutter’s experience reminds us that the long wave is very formidable — especially when you are unaware of it. Or if you don’t plan for it. This key lesson — gleaned from transformative Maslow Windows over the last 200+ years — still applies in the 21st century to those who aspire to grow with human expansion into the cosmos, when it re-ignites by 2015.

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Oct 24 2010

State of the Wave: Obama on Space — The New Eisenhower or JFK?

In his extremely widely-read blog, Stanford’s Daniel Pipes, head of the Middle East Forum, scoffs at NASA Administrator Bolden’s recent assertion that NASA is pursuing “a new beginning of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.”

First, it is inordinately patronizing for Americans to make Muslims “feel good” about their medieval contributions to science. This will lead to more resentment than gratitude.
Second, Muslims at present do lag in the sciences and the way to fix this is not condescension from NASA but some deep Muslim introspection …
Third, polls indicate that Obama’s effort to win Muslim public opinion has been a failure, with his popularity in majority-Muslim countries hardly better than George W. Bush’s …
Finally, it’s a perversion of American scientific investment to distort a space agency into a feel-good tool of soft diplomacy

After the firestorm following Bolden’s interview, the White House backed away from his initial claim that improving relations with Muslim countries is NASA’s “foremost responsibility.”

Which space pioneer president best characterizes Obama’s space vision?

However, you still have to wonder how there can be so much — even momentary — uncertainty in high places about the fundamental purpose or vision of NASA. But it does provide an opportunity, after 2 years of President Obama, to compare how U.S. presidents have viewed NASA’s role in the world, and what it might mean for our future in space.

Sputnik: One Small Ball vs. Technological Imperialism
Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) was Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, including the D-Day invasion during World War II, a 5-star General of the Army, and was in his second term as U.S. president in 1957 when the Soviets changed the world by unexpectedly launching Sputnik.

Despite his extraordinary national security credentials and successful presidency, Eisenhower took considerable heat for Sputnik, “the shock of the century.” In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, …The Heavens and the Earth (1985) Walter McDougall explains that Eisenhower publicly downplayed Sputnik’s “extraordinary symbolism” by calling it merely “one small ball” in orbit. But others saw it as world-altering, including Life magazine which coined the Cold War phrase “technological imperialism,”

The public response to Sputnik was “earsplitting” and unequalled since Pearl Harbor. And because Sputnik apparently confirmed the existence of a Soviet ICBM, Lyndon B. Johnson and his Senate colleagues explored Sputnik’s fearful implications in public hearings. In Sputnik — The Shock of the Century (2001) Paul Dickson describes the American collective mood in 1957 as “deep anxiety, often bordering on hysteria.”

Despite the fact that the press believed Sputnik meant Soviet military superiority, Eisenhower knew otherwise, and,

found it hard to understand the national disarray and fear. He was startled that the Awerican people were so psychologically vulnerable …

(Eisenhower) was also blind to the symbolic power of a new technology.

According to NASA Historian Roger Launius, the public view of Eisenhower at the time was: “A smiling incompetent . . . a ‘do-nothing,’ golf-playing president mismanaging events. . . .”

JFK, Camelot, and the Race to Space
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was narrowly elected president of the U.S. in 1960 partly due to anxiety about a “missile gap” with the Soviets that persisted because of lingering public concerns over Sputnik.

As NASA gained momentum, JFK’s primary space-related task was to formulate an American response to the momentous Soviet launch of the first human into space on April 12, 1961.

Kennedy’s science advisors quickly demonstrated their lack of vision:

… a crash program aimed at placing a man into orbit at the earliest possible time cannot be justified solele on scientific or technical grounds.

The Wiesner Report also cautioned JFK that Project Mercury might associate him “with a possible failure or even the death of an astronaut.”

However, the Space Science Board — chaired by Lloyd Berkner — of the National Academy of Sciences saved the day by stimulating JFK’s visionary side.

Man’s exploration of the Moon and planets is potentially the greatest inspirational venture of this century and one in which the whole world can share; inherent here are great and fundamental philosophical and spiritual values which find a response in man’s questing spirit and his intellectual self-realization.

According to McDougall (1985), “Here was language to stoke the visionary, intellectual President!”

After Yuri Gargarin orbited the Earth on April 12, JFK was determined to win the Space Race.

If somebody can just tell me how to catch up … There’s nothing more important … If we can get to the Moon before the Russians, we should

VP Lyndon Johnson explained the national prestige angle, “In the eyes of the world, first in space means first, period; second in space is second in everything.” McDougall speculates that in the end, the tipping point for JFK may have been the “spinal chill attending the thought of leaving the Moon to the Soviets.”

Is Obama the New JFK?
Unlike Eisenhower and JFK, we do not yet have insiders’ accounts describing Obama’s approach to space policy and his concept for NASA. But we do have public reactions of many of his supporters and the details of his policy.

For example, former Democratic senator and 1st American in orbit, John Glenn, has highlighted the key national prestige and functional challenges of not being able to reach the International Space Station.

The originally planned gap of two or three years of our having no U.S. manned launch capability will realistically be closer to eight or ten years — or more … U.S. astronauts will…train for final launch preparation on Russian spacecraft … launches of U.S. astronauts into space will be viewed in classrooms and homes in America only through the courtesy of Russian TV.

Another Obama supporter and prominent space policy expert, John Logsdon (George Washington Univ), criticized Obama for “blowing off the Moon as a valuable destination, and setting an ambiguous target for a heavy lift vehicle,” at a time when China and others seem to be targeting the Moon. Bipartisan support for similar positions in Congress is reflected in the NASA Authorization bill recently signed by Obama.

Although some have criticized JFK for not providing a long-term roadmap to the stars, it’s clear that JFK’s Cold War space vision was successful in its national prestige, technology, and education goals; it truly demonstrated that the U.S. was #1.

However in the view of many, President Obama’s original space policy is not visionary because it omits essential elements — e.g., a heavy lift launch vehicle — at a critical time. Plus Obama’s Mars plans are poorly defined compared to JFK’s Apollo vision.

Therefore, at the present time, especially regarding the vision and specifics of his civilian space policy, Obama is not the new JFK.

Is Obama the New Eisenhower?
Rather surprisingly, Eisenhower and Obama appear to be ideological brothers, or at least cousins, in their attutudes toward the development of civilian space policy.

Eisenhower believed in limited government and ironically warned about the “military-industrial complex.” However, the new, post-Sputnik space program (McDougall, 1985) was

a technocratic accomplishment, involving the integration of new science and engineering under the aegis of the state … (and) it suggested new dependence on a clique of experts, whom the people’s representatives had no choice but to trust. All told, Sputnik threatened to undercut Eisenhower’s efforts to usher in the missile age without succumbing to centralized mobilization and planning.

At least in the arena of NASA — regardless of how ill-advised and/or impractical given current geopolitical and technological realities — President Obama seemed to be on the same page as Eisenhower with his nod to private versus government development of a new man-rated launch vehicle.

The second parallel with Eisenhower is Obama’s uncertainty about the symbolism (and vision) of NASA. Eisenhower did not initially appreciate the American public’s excitement over this new technology; e.g., McDougall (1985) tells of how Eisenhower “dozed off” during an early meeting on the future of NASA (P. 309).

Obama’s public comment — “Been there, done that…” — in the presence of 2nd man on the Moon Buzz Adrin, regarding his decision to cancel America’s Moon program, and his (previously mentioned) fuzzy plans for Mars, suggest an Eisenhower-style lack of focus.

But in Obama’s defense, it’s been 40 years since the last Moon landing and so it’s easy to underestimate their momentous global impact. And Obama took office during a major economic crisis and a continuing war on terror that distract from manned space.

It wasn’t until I read Pipes’ critique (see top of post) of his use of NASA to buttress the self-image of Muslim nations, that I realized Obama’s lack of clarity about the symbolism and potential future vision of NASA.

Therefore, at the current time, especially regarding his ideological and symbolic approach to civilian space policy, Obama is the new Eisenhower.

The Good News for American Space Policy
It is not obvious why Obama has chosen an Eisenhower-style approach to space policy instead of the more visionary JFK style — but the U.S. Congress has begun to nudge him in that bi-partisan direction.

Forbes magazine (D’Souza, 9/27/10) has explicitly suggested Obama’s space policy is influenced by his “anticolonial” roots. However, the New York Times Magazine (P. Baker, 10/12/10) and former Bush Secretary of State Condi Rice (Washington Post, G. Kessler, 10/15/10) assure us that Obama’s presidential experience over the last 2 years has propelled him in a positive direction.

In any case, if the Eisenhower analogy from one long wave ago holds, it’s possible — as we approach the new international Space Age — that Obama will embrace the next quantum leap toward U.S. and global success in space and on Earth …

Conventional wisdom portrays Eisenhower as skeptical and tight-fisted regarding space, in contrast to his enthusiastic successors. This is part of the picture, to be sure … but it obscures the fact that Eisenhower also secured NASA’s place as a growing technocratic enterprise. Ike founded the civilian agency, nurtured it, gave it the major missions and the tools it needed, and linked it to national prestige. Once the critical judgment had been made that the United States should promote its space program as open, peaceful, and scientific … the future of NASA was assured,

(McDougall, 1985).


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Sep 04 2010

Early Ebullience Continues to Rise: “His Reputation is Expanding Faster Than the Universe!”

Here at we’re always on the lookout for signs of wide-spread ebullience, because over the last 200 years it’s fundamentally driven some of the most thrilling human explorations (e.g., Lewis & Clark) and most amazing technology projects (e.g., the Apollo Saturn V launch vehicle) of all time.

Actor Jonathan Goldsmith is the “most interesting” — and the most ebullient — man in the world.
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Here at, “ebullience” is a technical term.

It’s defined as a very positive, somewhat irrational — almost giddy — emotional state, that’s usually due to widespread affluence during a 1960s-style major economic boom. In response to affluence-induced ebullience, many people ascend the Maslow hierarchy where their expanded world views make Great Explorations and MEPs seem not just intriguing, but almost irresistible — hence the name “Maslow Window.”

In the 1960s Apollo program and Peace Corps of John F. Kennedy it was the ebullient feeling that we could do almost anything; in the early 20th century it was Theodore Roosevelt’s Panama fever and (north & south) pole mania; in the mid-19th century is was manifest destiny of James Polk and the central Africa adventures of Dr. Livingstone, I presume; and about 200 years ago it began auspiciously with Jefferson, Napoleon, and Lewis & Clark.

Maslow Window-style ebullience is usually affluence-induced, but even in the wake of the financial Panic of 2008 and during our stalled recovery, early ebullience is on the rise. We call this “early ebullience” because it signals our rapid approach to the next extraordinary Maslow Window expected by 2015.

This all came to mind this morning while we were celebrating the holiday watching opening-day college football on TV. Michigan State’s in-progress win over Western Michigan was interrupted by my favorite commercials on television: Dos Equis’ “the Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign.

To my friends (male and female) and me they are immensely amusing. So much so, that in fact, before today, I’d never thought about why — I was too busy enjoying them! But their sociological importance as an indicator of early ebullience is suggested because they’ve been around since 2007 and are very popular. Many folks strongly identify with their wildly ebullient themes!

They feature actor Jonathan Goldsmith as “The Most Interesting Man” who projects an intense aura of ebullience, but of an unusual kind. It’s not his personality that’s ebullient, it is his attitude!

Here are some new and fav lines about The Most Interesting Man:

“He is the life of parties he has never attended”

“His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards.”

“Sharks Have a week dedicated to him.”

My personal favorites include:

“He once had an akward moment, just to see how it feels.”

“Alien abductors have asked him, to probe them.”

“He lives vicariously through himself.”

Eat Me Daily gets it:

A cross between Ernest Hemingway, Bill Murray, Burt Reynolds, Royal Tenenbaum, and Don Draper, the Most Interesting Man in the World harkens back to a mid-century concept of what a man’s man should be. In love with women and booze, but classier than most, he travels the world seeking experiences. (“His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.”)

“Mid-Century” refers to just before the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, about one long wave ago. We should expect these traits and images to be re-emerging about now because commercial television is a major influence on pop culture. And …

Pop culture elements resonate with the 56 year cycle because of the “omnipresent financial, technological, and cultural influences that long-term fluctuations in the economy have on society during similar portions of the wave; e.g., both the original and sequel of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” appeared 7 – 8 years before their Maslow Window opened …

Of course, The Most Interesting Man doesn’t prove we’re on trajectory for a 2015 Boom, but — along with a variety of other impressive evidence — it’s certainly supports it. And keep in mind that this is a postview of 1960s-style ebullience — something you can’t remember if you’re under 45 — and a preview of the Camelot-like ebullience likely to engulf you after 2015.

OK, I’ve teased you long enough. Here’s a montage video of The Greatest Man commercials. (I figured you’d stop reading if I included it earlier in the post.) Enjoy and have an Ebullient Labor Day Weekend!

CLICK: watch?v=QI58wj4b4g0

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Aug 21 2010

China Surges to #2 and Contemplates More Freedom: The Implications for Space

One way or the other, China will be a major player in space and on Earth during the next 10 -15 years (i.e., the 2015 Maslow Window)

The New York Times (8/15/10) concurs.

After three decades of spectacular growth, China passed Japan in the second quarter to become the world’s second-largest economy behind the United States. The milestone, though anticipated for some time, is the most striking evidence yet that China’s ascendance is for real and that the rest of the world will have to reckon with a new economic superpower.

Will China ascend to global leadership in space during the next 10-15 years?
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The Times suggested that China’s surge will continue and may eventually approach the much larger capacity of the U.S. “as early as 2030.”

China’s continuing growth fits well into a scenario that sketched over 2 years ago in “10 Reasons Why China is Good for Space”:

China’s space program stretches back more than 35 years, suggesting that space will expand in importance because of the growing economic, technological, and scientific culture of the country … China’s very rapid economic growth hovers around 10% annually. This is very important internally to the Communist Party leaders, as well as to major export sources like Wal-Mart! It also provides the financial cornerstone for future Chinese technology and space initiatives.

China’s challenges include its low GDP per capita value of $ 3,600 –similar to “impoverished nations ike Algeria, El Salvador and Albania” – versus $ 46,000 for the United States. Interestingly, the Times credits the Communist Party with China’s surge.

There is little disputing that under the direction of the Communist Party, China has begun to reshape the way the global economy functions by virtue of its growing dominance of trade, its huge hoard of foreign exchange reserves and United States government debt and its voracious appetite for oil, coal, iron ore and other natural resources.

Quite a different view is offered by a Chinese General recently in the popular Hong Kong magazine, Phoenix, in which he sees a choice for China of either “American-style democracy or Soviet-style collapse.”
According to General Liu Yazhou,

If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish … ‘The secret of US success is neither Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it … The American system is said to be ‘designed by genius and for the operation of the stupid’. A bad system makes a good person behave badly, while a good system makes a bad person behave well. Democracy is the most urgent; without it there is no sustainable rise.

This is similar to American self-described “panda hugger” Thomas P. M. Barnett’s view (2/12/10) about the necessity for more freedom in China.

Once the extensive growth period is done and the “golden period” of demographic advantage dissipates, there is no advantage to having authoritarian government–despite the many myths recently created about the “superiority” of China’s single-party state. China is heading to the all-things-being-equal part of advanced development, and when a regime reaches that point, democracies simply perform better–not by how they run things but by how they get the hell out of the way of those who really need to run things, aka the private sector.

Such a transition might actually be easier than it sounds based on the impressions of international analyst Chris Mayer who recently visited Beijing and reports that “A more bustling capitalistic city would be hard to imagine … (and) There must be more communists in Berkeley than in Beijing.”

On the other hand, despite China’s 11.1% growth rate in 1st half of 2010, Stratfor cautions against linear forecasting and, in fact, sees a “Japan-like collapse” for China by 2015. In their Decade Forecast for 2005 – 2015 (2/5/05) Stratfor asserted the following:

Perhaps our most dramatic forecast is that China will suffer a meltdown like Japan and East and Southeast Asia before it. The staggering proportion of bad debt, enormous even in relation to official dollar reserves, represents a defining crisis for China. China will not disappear by any means, any more than Japan or South Korea has. However, extrapolating from the last 30 years is unreasonable. We also expect there to be significant political consequences … Why, then, if STRATFOR sees a China on the verge — if not already in the midst — of massive internal upheaval, is there a general global acceptance of the idea that not only is China on an unstoppable rise, but that people should pour their money into the Chinese economy? In part, this is due to tunnel vision — assessors of the Chinese economy are looking only at the booming center-coastal economies in and around Shanghai. In part, it is intentional self-delusion, a failure to connect the dots.

China’s approaching tipping point presents an opportunity to highlight trends — without giving away too many trade secrets — that are illuminated by the empirical, long-term approach of Here are a few.

1) Gen Liu Yazhou agrees with Stratfor.
After several admirable years of sticking to their unpopular, but rational China-collapse-by-2015 forecast, Stratfor recently found an important ally: the courageous Chinese General. Media hype about China catching the U.S. economically by 2030 appears increasingly unrealistic. But it also weakens somewhat the case for private investors to make long-term financial commitments to China’s economy. (Also, see #4 below.)

2) The Japanese deflationary decade was consistent with Long Wave trends.
According to the Wall Street Journal (8/17/10), “After its property and stock bubbles burst in 1990, Japan also embarked on what may have been the longest and most expensive Keynesian policy experiment in world history.” This deflationary trajectory mirrored the downward trend of the long economic wave which reached its trough in the late 1990s. By contrast, the U.S. experienced a remarkable economic boom in the 1990s, although — possibly due to long wave effects — it never gained the momentum or had the widespread demographic impact of the 1960s Kennedy Boom (which triggered the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window).

For more, see “200 Years of GDP Trends Support a Near-Term, New Space Age.”

3) Will China choose American-style democracy over Chinese communism?
China insiders insist that the country is held together by rapid economic growth and nationalism — both of which, of course, are strongly connected to China’s space program — not devotion to the Communist Party. Thus a near-term China collapse could indeed trigger major political changes like those advocated by General Liu Yazhou.

4) A near-term, Japan-style Collapse of China Will Be Relatively Brief.
There are at least 2 major reasons why a China collapse will be brief: a) Political reforms in China would be expected to stimulate the Chinese economy through increased freedom and innovation, and b) the dynamic upward turn of the global economy — much like we experienced in 2007 just before the financial panic — as we ascend toward the 2015 Maslow Window, will shorten the Chinese deflationary interval.

5) A Grand Alliance for Space or Apollo-style Competition?
The juxtaposition in time of a likely China collapse by 2015 accompanied by liberal political reforms, and the approach of the 2015 Maslow Window, is not as coincidental as it seems, and will virtually guarantee that China will not experience anything like the Japan Deflationary Decade. In fact, the real possibility exists that China will rebound early in the 2015 Maslow Window to become a (or “the”) global leader in space.

One key indicator to watch is China’s possible participation in a joint Russia-China manned Mars initiative after 2015 as an outgrowth of their joint mission in 2011 to Phobos.

Ironically, a robust, growing Chinese economy – which is in everyone’s economic interest around the world — might be more likely to trigger a new Apollo-style space race, instead of a more productive ‘Global Alliance for Space,’ that might be favored in less prosperous times.

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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, 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.’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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May 01 2010

Space: The Fractal Frontier — How Complexity Drives Exploration

Like a breath of fresh air, the science of self organized criticality has illuminated many disciplines, including astrophysics, biology, climate, economics, geopolitics, and others (see Turcotte & Rundle (2002) PNAS, “Self-organized criticality in the physical, biological, and social sciences.”)

What do Apollo and the new international Space Age have in common?
…Self organized criticality?

Click .

The brainchild of Danish physicist Per Bak (1948-2002) — “one of the most original people in science” — SOC is an emergent property of complex systems whereby they organize themselves into a critical state such that rapid changes, including catastrophes, can occur. You can see the famous “Bak sandpile” conceptual model of SOC in Aschwanden (2010) as well as in Bak (1996), How Nature Works.

The captivating assertion of social scientist and SOC enthusiast Gregory Brunk (2002) that,

Virtually all aggregate-level, monumental events are somehow ’caused’ by the process of self-organized criticality,

suggests that SOC may have played a major role in the Apollo program and other major MEPs over the last 200 years. This post is a brief sketch how that might work.

Apollo Was the Most Recent of the Great Explorations
Cordell (1996) described the extraordinary pulses of great human explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), macro-engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), and major wars (e.g., WW I) that cluster together exclusively every 55 to 60 years, over the last 200 years. I speculated that the decade from 2015 to 2025 would have economic, technology, and geopolitical parallels with the spectacular Apollo 1960s, including a JFK/Camelot-style zeitgeist.

Cordell (2006) introduced the concept of a “Maslow Window,” triggered by rhythmic, twice-per-century economic booms. Affluence-induced ebullience propels many to higher states in the Maslow hierarchy, where their momentarily expanded worldviews make great explorations and MEPs seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible. As ebullience decays — due to widespread perceptions of budget stresses, a war, etc. — the Maslow Window closes.

The Bottomline is: The realization that Apollo is the most recent in a rhythmic, 200-year long string of great human explorations starting with Lewis and Clark, potentially opens the door to Bak-style SOC.

Wars and the Evidence for Complexity
According to Bak, a complex system exhibits SOC only if it has some form of power-law scaling, called “fractal” by Mandelbrot (1963). Based on their size-frequency plots for wars, Roberts and Turcotte (1998) conclude that,

The results we have shown indicate that world order behaves as a self-organized critical system independent of the efforts made to control and stabilize interactions between people and countries; and wars, like forest fires, are SOC processes.

Although Roberts and Turcotte (1998) only had data up to 150,000 deaths per war, the fact that “medium-size” wars are almost pure SOC indicates that the major wars of Maslow Windows are also fractal, as suggested recently for World War I by Harvard historian Niall Ferguson.

Punctuated Equilibria and Exploration
In 1994, the National Academy of Sciences held a major colloquium in Irvine, CA on “Physics: The Opening to Complexity.”

In Bak’s conference paper, he considers SOC in the contexts of geology, biological evolution, and macroeconomics. For example, in economics each system consists of many “agents” that interact together,

such as producers, governments, thieves, and economists. These agents each make decisions optimizing their own idiosyncratic goals. The actions of one agent affect other agents. In biology, individual organisms … (or individual species) interact with one another. The actions of one organism affect the survivability, or fitness, of others. If one species changes by mutation to improve its own fitness, other species in the ecology are also affected.

Bak generalizes Stephen Jay Gould’s biological theory of “punctuated equilibrium” to all complex systems:

The system exhibits punctuated equilibrium behavior, where periods of stasis are interrupted by intermittant bursts of activity … They are intrinsic to the dynamics of biology, history, and economics … Large, catastrophic events occur as a consequence of the same dynamics that produces small, ordinary events … We believe that this punctuated equilibrium behavior, first noted by Gould and Eldredge (1977, 1993), is common to all complex dynamical systems.

The Bottomline is: The Apollo program — seen in the context of 200 years of great explorations — exhibits punctuated equilibrium behavior, an important step toward identifying it and the other MEPs as a SOC process.

Dynamics of SOC — The Gap Equation
Bak’s Gap Equation governs the system’s evolution from weak SOC to the fractal, self organized critical state.

The model is so general that it can also be thought of as a model for macroeconomics. The individual sites represent economic agents, and the random numbers f1 represent their “utility functions.” Agents modify their behavior to increase their wealth. The agents with lowest utility functions disappear and are replaced by others. This, in turn, affects other agents and changes their utility functions.

Bak’s quote above could apply just as well to agents of particular space projects modifying their behavior and vying for funding at NASA (or elsewhere) and/or Macro-Engineering Projects likewise seeking support of all types. Agents and projects with the “lowest utility functions” soon disappear (a Darwinian principle), no matter how big they are – just ask Constellation advocates!

The Bottomline is: This compatibility with Bak’s law indicates that space projects and MEPs are most likely governed by SOC. The Space Project/MEP System is most fractal just before and during a Maslow Window. As in Bak’s computer simulations, transitions into and out of the strong SOC state are abrupt just before (e.g., in 1901; in 1958) or just after the Maslow Windows (e.g., in 1914 and in 1970). While in the critical state, large changes (i.e., great explorations, MEPs, major wars) can occur in response to even a minor stimulus.

Predictability and SOC
The fractal nature of SOC inhibits long-term predictability of specific events during the critical state (i.e., during a Maslow Window). However, the last 200+ years show that, especially during the non-fractal decades between Maslow Windows, the long wave has been a reliable guide to the rhythmic, twice-per-century timing of Maslow Windows from Lewis and Clark through 1960s Apollo to the present. And other intriguing regularities are also observable.

For example, according to former UCLA geophysics professor Didier Sornette — who more recently founded the Financial Crisis Observatory in Zurich — in reference to the U.S. stock market, “It is possible to identify clear signatures of near-critical behavior many years before the crashes and use them to ‘‘predict’’ the date where the system will go critical …”

Bak also hints at predictability (by analogy with his sandpile model, he refers to major changes during the critical SOC state as “avalanches”):

During an avalanche, a great deal of rapid activity occurs in which species come and go at a fast pace. Nature “experiments” until it finds another “stable” ecology with high fitnesses. The Cambrian explosion 500 million years ago can be thought of as the grandmother of all such avalanches.

So what should we expect prior to a Maslow Window? What’s the analog for Nature looking for a more “stable” ecology while “species come and go” in a Darwinian sense? What signal should we see of “near-critical behavior many years before” the critical Maslow Window?

Two potential candidates have been identified that appear regularly over the last 200+ years:
1) Major financial panic/great recession combinations (e.g., Panic of 1893) that usually begin 6-8 years before a Maslow Window (including the Panic of 2008 and current great recession),
2) Moderate wars and/or dangerous confrontations (e.g., Cuban Missile Crisis) that are rapidly resolved and occur early in or just before Maslow Windows (including the current Iran crisis).

These precursors are consistent with both long wave patterns and self organized criticality, when our complex international economic system self-organizes into a critical state — characterized by Great Explorations, Macro-Engineering Projects, and major wars — that we call a Maslow Window.

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Apr 25 2010

Obama’s New Space Policy — An Encore!

My initial post on Obama’s new policy is visible here: Obama’s New Space Policy and the Spirit of Apollo

Frank Sowa’s insightful comments on my post are copied below for you, along with a few more of mine (in bold). Frank is CEO of The Xavier Group, Ltd. near Pittsburgh, PA. Along with first-American-to-orbit John Glenn, Frank is a graduate of Muskingum College in Ohio, and his interest in space was nurtured as a teen by his NASA engineer father who invented the J2H engine ablation system for the Saturn V Booster rockets. In the 1980s, Frank worked with Deke Slayton, one of the original NASA Mercury 7 astronauts, on the SSI commercial space payload concepts, and more recently with well-known futurist Marvin Cetron on DARPA, DoD, and other projects.

Here are Frank’s thoughts and a few more of mine (in bold):

Obama’s new space policy is not a ‘good one.’ While I somewhat disagree with Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan — that is I do not believe “it is devastating.” I do believe it will have negative effects on the future viability of NASA as even “a premier space agency.” It certainly will lose its “superstar” status — probably within four years. In terms of policy, I think Obama sought a pragmatic middle ground that “saved” NASA as a “sustainable” agency with a “sustainable” future budget. The policy’s effects will limit NASA bureaucracy, and will support the political and media pundits who are chastising the US spending policies and deficits …

BC: Frank’s point about the “sustainability” of NASA relates to our great recession. Although many economists claim we are in for a slow recovery, I think it will probably be accelerated by U.S. political pressures that will be expressed later this year and in 2012. Not incidentally, that’s the pattern that occurred after the Panic of 1893 during the 1890s great recession. Their rapid turnaround led to possibly the most ebullient decade in U.S. history — the Peary/Panama/T.Roosevelt Maslow Window (1901-13) — and has implications for our prospects today.

Politicizing the decisions about the future of NASA, is much like politicizing the futures of the intelligence communities last year, and the cave-in to special interests on healthcare this year. They reflect on Obama and his administration poorly, but they DO get the job done, create incremental progress, and achieve some form of politically expedient compromise. The public sees little value in STEM, technological innovation, science, science literacy, etc. — much less space. That should be expected.

BC: The casual attitudes of some in the public today toward science and technology remind me of the mid-1950s before Sputnik. After the “shock of the century” the revitalization of science in the U.S. was immediate, including more money for all levels of education and the formation of NASA in 1958. Whether due to increasing cooperation in space with our international partners, or because of Apollo-like competition with others, it’s likely we’ll see a similar transition in the next 3 – 4 years.

Since Reagan, we’ve chosen as a nation to “refine and benchmark”, to “socially-engineer”, and to focus on brain-dead opinion polling rather than “exploring the unknown”, “seeking where no man had ventured before,” “truly exploring for the future of mankind.” We’ve dumbed-down our educational support systems by “trying to fix education” through a worn-out secular bureaucracy that performs best by never changing its precepts, challenging the given or status-quo, shaking things up instead of conforming, and championing new “out-of-the-box” thinking. We’ve bought into “supply-side” (voodoo) economics driven by finance, services, and consumption — as opposed to production, innovating to solve problems and meet demands, and using technology and the scientific method as the underpinnings of good growth. We’ve skewed capitalism to support me-ism and greed at the expense of people while peddling propaganda to say we were seeking an all-inclusive, kinder-gentler, less-violent society.

BC: Frank makes several strong points here, and these are typical of the negative long wave-related influences on society in the decades between Maslow Windows over the last 200 years (i.e., since Lewis and Clark). Another way to think of it is that since Reagan — in the context of great explorations and MEPs — the U.S. has experienced weak self organized criticality, and is only now moving toward a more fractal, self organized critical state characteristic of previous Maslow Windows (e.g., the 1960s), and expected again near 2015.

What does this mean to the new space policy?

It means we should no longer look to NASA as the driver of the US Space Program. NASA will continue to serve a policy role, and provide refinements on research to help facilitate private-sector and/or international options. It further means that all of NASA’s work and technologies since the 1950’s will be further divided between defense (national security) and civilian (sold to private sector contractors and interests), in sum — I believe NASA’s future will serve primarily as a policy-clearinghouse driven by legal eagles and acting much more in regulating US space like the FAA than exploring space as it had. This is sad and devastating to NASA’s Federal Labs, as well as to future governmental STEM employment that has much meaning. This won’t occur right away, but unless public opinion changes radically — it will be the normal view of and within NASA by 2030 …

BC: As Frank points out, if NASA’s trajectory remains as in Obama’s model, NASA will be dramatically changed. But big change for NASA at this time is not a surprise. Almost one long wave ago in 1958, NASA was formed from NACA to emphasize manned spaceflight (ultimately to the Moon). And today as we approach a new international space age, NASA should be expected to change again — most likely in the direction of more ISS-style international cooperation with a focus on human spaceflight into deep space (e.g., near-Earth asteroids, Moon, Phobos, Mars).

The US role in space if it accepts this tectonic shift in NASA’s role, and if the private-sector contractors that are domestically based are willing and able to take on the role of growing a domestic space program seeking and meeting long-term gains. The new US space program will be radically altered but may be bright. Will the private-sector live up to and take on this domestic challenge? It depends on how much we’ve dumbed down our society chasing short-term futures and “bling” at the expense of growing great through exploration. The odds are currently against a good outcome, but the same could have been said in the 60’s after JFK’s challenge. The scientists and engineers who want something good to be achieved will have to take on the responsibilities, as they did in the 60’s Space Race, to achieve beyond expectations. For those — “failure is not an option.”

BC: Frank is wise to see JFK’s Apollo Moon program as a positive analog, because 2015 is the portal to a similarly transformative decade in space and on Earth. Although it concerns me to hear canonical figures like Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan insist that it will take a decade before private industry can safely deliver astronauts to ISS and beyond, it’s likely that Obama will ultimately be remembered as the “father of commercial space”. In any case, the return of prosperity and the convergence of geopolitical forces within a few years will probably drive NASA back into the launch vehicle business sooner than most people expect.

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Mar 16 2010

Niall Ferguson — On the Edge of Chaos, Immersed in the Long Wave

Dr. Ferguson is a very insightful history professor at Harvard who has previously written about the financial history of the world, and recently in Foreign Affairs (March/April, 2010) used some ideas from complexity theory to explain the downfall of nations. Ferguson’s article points away from grand theories like those of Toynbee or more recently Diamond, who focus on long-term cultural, economic, or ecological forces, in favor of very rapid changes; e.g. “A very small trigger can set off a “phase transition” from a benign equilibrium to a crisis…”; the Butterfly Effect.

I am especially intrigued with Ferguson’s portrayal of self-organized criticality in this context because it fits well into the Maslow Window model — that explains rhythmic, twice-per-century clusters of great human explorations, macro-engineering projects, and major wars over the last 200 years – which is fundamentally driven by a long business cycle known as “the long wave.”

What Caused World War I?

No one expected it, but soon historians had constructed a theory extending back to an unfortunate treaty signed in 1839. Nonsense. According to Ferguson, “the proximate triggers of a crisis are often sufficient to explain the sudden shift from a good equilibrium to a bad mess … World War I was actually caused by a series of diplomatic miscalculations in the summer of 1914…”

In terms of the long wave, WW I is a classic “peak war”; i.e., one of several major wars that occur near or shortly after the peak in the long wave – a time when a major economic boom has culminated in widespread societal affluence – such as near the end of the Peary/Panama Maslow Window. When asked why nations would fight a major war in the midst of such affluence, the response of some political scientists – apparently seriously – is that’s the only time nations can afford them. However, physicist Theodore Modis (1992) suggested that peaks of the long wave are likely to be times of chaos in an economy or among nations, as opposed to rapid growth periods like Maslow Windows.

Thus the Maslow Window/Long Wave model and Ferguson-style self-organized criticality together provide a plausible explanation for the timing and magnitude of WW I as well as other peak wars over the last 200+ years.

What About the British and Soviet Empires?

Ferguson marvels at the rapidity with which the British Empire and more recently the Soviet Union collapsed. “The United Kingdom’s age of hegemony was effectively over less than a dozen years after its (WW II) victories over Germany and Japan.” And “less than 5 years after Gorbachev took power, the Soviet imperium in central and Eastern Europe had fallen apart, followed by the Soviet Union itself in 1991. If ever an empire fell off a cliff — rather than gently declining it was the one founded by Lenin.”

However, the persistent influence of long wave economic trends apprears to have contributed in both cases. For example, Fareed Zakaria (2008) notes that at its height the British Empire covered “a quarter of the earth’s land surface and included a quarter of its population.” And yet,

Britain’s exalted position was more fragile than it appeared … Britain was a strange superpower … The wonder is not that Britain declined, but that its dominance lasted as long as it did … By World War I, the American economy was twice the size of Britain’s, and together France’s and Russia’s were larger as well … Having spearheaded the first industrial revolution, Britain had been less adept at moving into the second.

Although complexity probably played a role in Britain’s decline in the mid-1950s relative to the U.S., the effect of America’s economic surge toward the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window was also crucial. And if the Butterfly Effect triggered the Soviet Union’s downfall, its centrally planned economy, lack of democratic institutions, and the downward trend in the long wave (toward its trough in 1997), didn’t help either.

Is the U.S. Poised To Go Down?

Because national decline is “precipitous and unexpected” and most involve “fiscal crisis,” Ferguson maintains that “Alarm bells should be ringing very loudly, as the United States contemplates a deficit for 2009 of more than $ 1.4 trillion — about 11.2% of GDP, the biggest deficit in 60 years — and another for 2010 not much smaller.”

It’s not just the numbers that matter, it’s the perception. “In imperial crises, it is not the material underpinnings of power that really matter but expectations of future power.” This is similar to our concept of “ebullience” that powers unparalleled explorations and engineering projects during Maslow Windows, as well as the anti-ebullience experienced during great recessions (like now).

Suddenly one day,

it will not be just a few policy wonks who worry about the sustainability of U.S. fiscal policy but also the public at large, not to mention investors abroad. It is this shift that is crucial: a complex adaptive system is in big trouble when its component parts lose faith in its viability.

We may be reaching that point in the U.S. now. However, unlike the old Soviet Union, America has an informed electorate that can change the country’s direction like it has done recently beginning with President Obama’s election and continuing to the present. Although Ferguson is right that we are running high economic risks today, the U.S. has successfully weathered pre-Maslow Window financial panics and great recessions over the last 200 years that have never failed to give birth to unparalleled, undelayed, truly ebullient Maslow Windows.

And we expect the next one by 2015.

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