Jul 22 2009

The Right Stuff, Celebrities, and Sarkar's Social Cycles

The media continues to reverberate today with profound thoughts about Apollo 11’s 40th anniversary. For example, The Wall Street Journal is struck by how different things are now versus the 1960s.

The First Man had and still has “the right stuff.” Click neil1.jpg.

It took eight years from the time John Kennedy declared we would go to the Moon to the day an American landed on it, 40 years ago this week. It was also eight years ago this September that terrorists struck the World Trade Center, the site of which continues to be a hole in the ground and a national disgrace. (Wall Street Journal, 7/21/09)

Messy New York politics aside, and using their version of, “If they can send a man to the Moon, why can’t they…”, the Journal wonders,

How much harder can it be to fill a hole in the ground with buildings of any kind than to master the ground-breaking science and mechanics of space travel over the same number of years?

We’ve long resisted the notion of American decline … But it’s hard not to see in the contrast between the Moon program and … Ground Zero a warning about America’s national will.

The issue is largely one of timing and program type. Over the last 200 years, there are brief, exceptional intervals — called Maslow Windows — when the public is momentarily very supportive of great explorations and large technology projects. Maslow Windows are ebullient, transformative times generally separated by about 56 years, that are fundamentally driven by major economic booms during upswings in the long wave. The last one was in the 1960s during Apollo. Despite our current global recession, which is like other major contractions that have preceded nearly all other Maslow Windows of the last 200 years, our next ebullient, camelot-style interval is expected between 2015 and 2025. Not surprisingly, timing and economic conditions have not aided Ground Zero.

Program type is also important. Apollo was a Great Exploration that for the first time took humans to another world. Apollo was also a $ 150 B macro-engineering project (MEP) that captured the imagination of this world; no one who ever saw (or felt!) a Saturn V launch ever forgot it. Although there had been Great Explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and MEPs (e.g., Panama Canal) before, this was the first time they were ever unified in one grand project. Ground Zero is associated with a surprise terrorist attack on the U.S. in which 3000 people died. Given Ground Zero’s timing and history, it seems that Apollo is not a fair comparison.

On the next page (WSJ, 7/21/09), Bret Stephens compares “the right stuff” of the astronauts to our current celebrity culture and sees great disparity.

I detest anti-Americanism but I’ll concede this: It’s hard to watch American celebrity culture at work and not feel revolted … We make a fetish of uninteresting, detestable, loud or unaccomplished people: Paris Hilton, Princess Di, Keith Olberman, Michael Jackson.

By contrast, the 1960s Apollo astronauts were modest, private, patriotic, etc. For example, Neil Armstrong — the first man on the Moon — “never fails to mention the 400,000 people who worked to get him there,” and Gene Cernan, Commander of Apollo 17 the last lunar mission, marvels that, “One day you’re just Gene Cernan, young naval aviator, whatever…And the next day you’re an American hero. Literally. And you have done nothing.”

Stephens wonders if America makes men like Cernan and Armstrong anymore. And of course America still does — in the military, fire-fighters, police and others who often risk their lives so that ours can go on relatively unthreatened.

It reminds me again of Sarkar’s social cycles that I first read about in a book by SMU economist Ravi Batra. Sarkar believed there are 4 types of people and social classes: 1) Adventurer/Warriors, who are strong physically and mentally and willing to take risks, 2) Intellectuals, who are interested in ideas, 3) Acquisitors, who have a nose for money and enjoy accumulating it, and 4) Laborers, who lack the skills of the first 3 groups and who, while essential to society, are sometimes exploited by them.

At any time in history, society as-a-whole takes on the characteristics of one of these 4 groups. You can tell which group is ascendant by the types of people that are most celebrated. For example, the 1960s were a brief throwback to Adventure/Warrior times because Apollo astronauts were globally admired for their courage and explorations. But over most of the 20th century, according to Batra, society has been dominated by the Acquisitor mindset, as evidenced by the types of celebrities mentioned by Stephens above.

In Cordell (1996), I speculated that a major episode of social change might soon result in a sociopolitical climate favoring grand explorations.

Although seemingly farfetched, this is exactly what economist Ravi Batra expects based on Indian scholar P.R. Sarkar’s law of social cycles. Batra sees our current social malaise as leading to a social revolution in which wealth ‘acquisitors’ will be replaced by ‘adventurer/warriors’ as the dominant group in society. The adventurer/warrior spirit is what led the USA to send people to the Moon and could be expected to focus on the endless space frontier again. Based on the timing of Sarkar’s cycles over the last 2000 years, this revolution could occur sometime between now and 2010.”

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Jul 17 2009

The Secret of Why Apollo Was a "Giant Step, Full Stop"

It’s understandable that there’s concern now about why Apollo didn’t continue. Indeed, 40 years ago humans first landed on the Moon. But after five more reps, it — i.e., human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit — was all over. What happened?

According to Miles O’Brien, “We did something truly great, but then walked away from it.” Click ap11.jpg.

Thomas Mallon, in his New York Times (7/12/09) review of two new books on Apollo, displays a frustrated reaction to the lack of post-Apollo action. For example, “Walter Cronkite’s prediction, that after Apollo 11 ‘everything else that has happened in our time is going to be an asterisk,’ wound up playing out backward…Apollo is the footnote, an oddball offshot…”

Miles O’Brien (Space News, 1/22/09) agrees, “Truth is, we have done nothing to equal (much less top) the accomplishments of Apollo. And even worse, we haven’t tried. We did someting truly great, but then walked away from it.”

Mallon suggests maybe too much science was the problem. “With less geology and more ontology, they might have kept the public fired up for further space exploration.” And Commander of the first Apollo mission to circle the Moon (Apollo 8), Frank Borman, concurs, “Whether we found a rock there or not was of no importance.” Neither Mallon nor Borman are scientists so they are forgiven, but isn’t the origin of the Moon and early history of Earth one exciting reason for Apollo? Is it that easy, too much science did it to Apollo?

O’Brien rejects everyone’s favorite excuse for not going to Mars! For those who want to spend the money on Earth fixing our problems here first, he has some advice, “If you don’t want to mention the cost of the wars, if you would rather not get into Wall Street or Detroit bailouts, or if you don’t want to tell them the money we spend on the space program is about the same as our annual expenditure on coffee — why not mention India?…Calcutta can afford it — and Cleveland can’t?” He’s absolutely right…it’s clearly not about our ability to pay.

O’Brien laments that, “I have heard people say the accomplishments of Apollo cannot be replicated — that the historical dominoes lined up perfectly for all the events to fall into place with such precision and success…’It won’t happen again,’ they say wistfully,” (italics mine).

In the early 1990s I began wondering about exploration. Not just space, but all human exploration, particularly the type that fired up the planet’s population. Surprisingly, these “Great Explorations” — like Lewis & Clark and the early 20th century polar expeditions — are not random or flukes. Over the last 200+ years, they are typically separated by 55 to 60 years (see 200 Years; Cordell, 1996). The same is true of spectacular macro-engineering projects (MEPs) like the Panama Canal and the Apollo space infrastructure.

The “dominoes” do seem to be lined up somehow, and if you extrapolate forward from Apollo 11, it’s easy to calculate that the next pulse of Great Explorations/MEPs should culminate near 2025. But why the pattern?

Marveling about Apollo during the 1960s, O’Brien concludes that, “Those were audacious times — hard to imagine it all happening today…” (italics mine). In his pursuit of The Secret, O’Brien is starting to get warm…

About this time I stumbled across one of the more obscure, but fascinating books you’ve never heard of by economist Hugh Stewart (1989), Recollecting the Future: A View of Business, Technology, and Innovation in the next 30 Years, in which he describes the well-documented 56 year energy cycle and how it relates to society. Stewart’s energy cycle is correlated with long business cycles like the Kondratieff Wave discovered in the 1920s; e.g., peaks in the energy cycle are preceded by major economic booms.

By this time, I’d begun to think of 56 years — the typical time between Great Exploration/MEP pulses — as a magic number, and when I realized that 1969 — the year the Apollo program culminated — was an energy peak, I suspected the pulses might be fundamentally driven by long waves in the economy (see Cordell, 2006).

So what do O’Brien’s “audacious times” have to do with The Secret of why Apollo died? The greatest economic boom of its time produced a generally ebullient feeling in society, known as Camelot; if you can’t remember the 1960s, you’ve never experienced this. Momentarily liberated from typical money issues, many individuals responded to their ebullience by ascending Maslow’s hierarchy where their expanded worldviews made Great Explorations seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible. “Ebullience” and “audacious times” are similar to the “animal spirits” that drive business cycles according to economist John Maynard Keynes of the 1930s.

In actuality, these “Maslow Windows” do not collapse directly because of an economic downturn; they are terminated by the decay of ebullience. This supports O’Brien’s previous point about our being able to afford space almost anytime we want to. In this model, it’s not lack of money that precludes us from going to Mars right now, it’s our lack of ebullience — over the last 200 years, exclusively the hallmark of a Maslow Window.

History of the last 200+ years also shows that financial panics and major recessions (like the current one) are a typical feature of the decade just before the opening of a Maslow Window. An interesting analog for now is the Panic of 1893 and 1890s major recession that were closely followed by one of the most ebullient decades in U.S. history: the Peary/Panama Maslow Window (1903-1913).

Mallon marvels that “the speed with which the Apollo program was realized is unimaginable to anyone young enough only to have seen the manned space program shuttle only through its later elephantine circles.” President Kennedy had to complete the Apollo program “before this decade is out” because the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window started closing by 1966. This will also be a challenge for the unprecedented Great Explorations and MEPs that will materialize between 2015 and 2025 — our next Maslow Window.

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Jun 21 2009

Panama Canal Named "Best Construction Project in the World"

One of the greatest engineering marvels in human history — and one that points directly toward the ebullient 2015 Maslow Window — the Panama Canal continues to win awards for its Expansion Program. And the Canal Authority continues to modernize the current canal and to internationally market the canal’s future.

The Panama Canal Expansion Program is a remarkable example of “early ebullience” that signals our rapid approach to the long-awaited 2015 Maslow Window. Click panamaecp.jpg.

An interesting measure of the Canal’s ability to attract major attention from an international audience — one of the key characteristics of a modern Macro-Engineering Project (MEP) — is the response to my recent post, “10 Lessons the Panama Canal Teaches Us About the Human Future in Space.” Published just under 5 weeks ago on May 18, it has surged to #3 on the All-Time Readers’ Favorite List; up from #4 as recently as June 16, and it continues to climb.

The Canal itself is a magnificent story and, in combination with the International Space Station and the Apollo Moon program, provides surprising insights into the future, such as: the probable costs of future space programs, the types of future MEPs most likely to succeed, and the key role of the long wave in major programs. I think the unusual, future-oriented approach of the post appeals to many, but I’m sure that most of the international web surfers who visit are attracted by the extraordinary nature of the Panama Canal itself.

For example, at the 2009 International Logistics and Material Handling Exhibition (SIL 2009) in Barcelona, Spain, the Panama Canal Expansion Program (CEP) was given the esteemed Samoter award for “Best Construction Project in the World.” The Canal Expansion Program was also named the “Best International Project” by judges for their management of the “largest infrastructure initiative in Latin America.” To date, the Panama CEP has won a total of 11 international awards.

The Panama Canal Authority continues to modernize its operations. Recently US$ 320 M were invested in a new lighting system for increased safety, a new track and turntable system that cuts transit times, and several new tugboats. The Canal Authority has also recently signed MOUs with U.S. east coast port authorities of Philadelphia (6/12/09) and Maryland (6/2/09) to promote trade and economic growth and the “All-Water Route” connecting Asia to the U.S. east coast via the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal Expansion Program continues to be perhaps the most visible example of “early ebullience” in the world today. And despite the global recession, the CEP remains a sparkling bridge to more properous times in the near future. With its completion scheduled for 2014, the Canal will signal the opening of the 2015 Maslow Window and stimulate economic growth throughout the world — enabling human expansion into the cosmos.

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Mar 28 2009

The Shocking Truth About the Father of the Space Station

The recent completion of the solar arrays on the International Space Station (ISS) and having just marked its 10th anniversary in space, invite us to celebrate and contemplate the station’s birth way back in the 1980s.

It was in 1984 that President Ronald Reagan proposed a manned space station in low Earth orbit; named Space Station Freedom (SSF), it became the progenitor of the current ISS. Called “the next logical step” into space, Freedom was to be ambitiously multifunctional: a satellite servicing facility, spacecraft assembly center, astronomical observatory, a lab to study microgravity’s effects on astronauts, a commercial/industrial manufacturing facility. Reagan’s inspirational rhetoric soared almost as high as the station, “We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic, and scientific gain.”

Cost estimates for Space Station Freedom were $ 12.2 B in 1987 and it was to be permanently manned by April, 1997. Click ssf1987.jpg.

The day after Christmas (2008) we decided to visit Reagan’s Presidential Library in Simi Valley because — although we both admired the “Father of the Space Station” — neither of us had ever been there. We were impressed by the beautiful setting, the story of Reagan’s humble beginnings in Illinois, his movie career (including the “win one for the Gipper” video!), his ascent to the California governorship and the Presidency, and most of all, his actual Air Force 1 (a 747) that you see Contributing Editor Carol Lane smiling in front of.

Carol enjoyed this view of President Reagan’s Air Force 1, but still felt that something was missing. Click af1.jpg.

But one thing was missing, and this led to the 1st Shocking Truth about President Reagan (or at least about his library): There was NO mention of the space station!! After looking everywhere we finally gave up. It’s 3 months later now and we’re still surprised.

Of course, compared to “winning the Cold War” — which led in 1993 to the transformation of SSF into today’s ISS — and dismantling the Berlin Wall (a large piece of which is on display in the west courtyard), we know that a project (like SSF) that never came to fruition during Reagan’s 2 terms — and in fact was almost voted out of existence by Congress — would be considered small potatoes. But we still expected something!!!

More recently, as we enjoyed the mountain drive on the way to Indian Wells for a couple days at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, we began to come to psychological terms with this (to us) stunning omission in Reagan’s Library. We remembered how President John F. Kennedy played the key leadership role in the first race to space. His charisma, timing, and courage contributed to the first man on the Moon in 1969. But we also were reminded that patterns in long-term trends in the economy, technology, and society over the last 200 years suggest that the fundamental driver behind the Apollo Moon program was the unparalleled economic boom of the 1960s.

Indeed the captivating question about which was most important to Apollo — President Kennedy or the 1960s economic boom — lingered. It all boiled down to this: Could President Kennedy have successfully kicked-off Apollo at any other time than when he did it — the early 1960s? For example, could JFK, the charismatic leader of “Camelot“, have successfully motivated a large space program in the 1980s?

This led us to the 2nd Shocking Truth about President Reagan: Not even the “Great Communicator” himself, arguably at least as charismatic as JFK, could make the space station program happen during the decade after he proposed it.

Were the 1980s just not conducive to Apollo-level Great Explorations or MEPs? Or was there something “wrong” with the Space Station project itself?

Why did the space station experience endless concept redesigns, political turbulence, a hefty $ 100 B price tag, and an unbelievable delay in its completion date from Reagan’s 1994 initial target to the actual date in 2011? …Only 17 years late!!

Of course, ISS is not a Great Exploration in the sense of Apollo or Lewis and Clark, it’s a “national laboratory” circling the Earth every 90 minutes. And it is, after all, the most expensive man-made project in history, by some accounts totaling $100 billion in costs. It involves 16 countries and there is approximately 1,000,000 pounds of hardware in space. The International Space Station comprises 100 elements that were built all over the world and integrated into one structure only in space. In total, the ISS is both an extraordinary engineering and foreign policy accomplishment that guarantee it’s an MEP historically comparable to the Saturn V or the Panama Canal.

On June 12, 2008, while explaining why the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) ultimately failed to generate public support, we proposed 4 “rules” for success for MacroEngineering Projects. Although the SSC violated all four, the space station only violated two of them:

Rule 1: Never initiate a $ multi-B MEP during the downgoing portion of the 56 year energy/economic cycle (it peaked in 1969)…
Rule 3: Large MEPs like SSF or SSC that are proposed between Maslow Windows (i.e., “trough” projects) must be associated with a strategic conflict (e.g. the A-Bomb project during WW II) for them to be viable….

The two other rules were less a factor for the space station:

Rule 2: Never propose a big MEP during the downgoing portion of the 56-year energy/economic cycle when another spectacular MEP has already been approved. Although President Reagan announced Space Station Freedom in 1984 after he had proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) in 1983, they were not really competitive because SDI was a “survival” program — not typically dependent on long waves in the economy — while SSF was a genuine “Maslow Program.”
Rule 4: MEPs proposed at any time must be impressive and inspirational to achieve public approval. Unlike the pyramids, European cathedrals, and the Panama Canal, most of SSC was buried underground and invisible, while SSF/ISS is highly visible directly in space and indirectly visible through the large number of Shuttle launches since 1998 needed to construct it.

Thus it appears likely that the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window was fundamentally driven not by President Kennedy, or even by the specific Great Exploration and MEP involved — but by the huge economic boom that triggered wide-spread ebullience and momentarily elevated Maslow heirarchy levels.

A similar confluence of societal affluence and ebullience is expected near 2015.

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Oct 25 2008

The 1960s Apollo Maslow Window was "Transformative"

And, indeed the social scientists think so too. As we approach the spectacular 2015 Maslow Window — a decade that economic and other indicators over the last 200 years suggest will be the analog of the 1960s, including a Camelot-like zeitgeist — a new academic social science journal is bursting over the horizon. “The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture.” It’s published by Routledge and edited by Jeremy Varon, Michael Foley, and John McMillian.

The 1960s was the time of humanity’s greatest explorative event: the first man on the Moon. It was and is the greatest because it was the first time humans left Earth and set foot on another world. The Sixties was also the first time in the last 200 years that a Great Exploration (i.e., Apollo to the Moon) was thoroughly integrated with the predominant macro-engineering project (i.e., the Apollo program infrastructure) of its time. For example, the Great Explorations of 1909-11 (the polar expeditions) — which many decades later were judged to be among the top 100 greatest events in all human history — were unrelated to their great contemporary MEP: the Panama Canal — except maybe in their joint sharing of a feeling of almost global ebullience.

The momentous Saturn V symbolized the first time a Great Exploration was thoroughly joined with an MEP in the last 200 years. Click saturnv.jpg.

The Apollo Moon program was fundamentally triggered by an unparalleled economic boom accompanied by the surprise 1957 launch of Sputnik and the intense confrontations of the Cold War. However in the typical pattern of Maslow Windows during the last 200 years, Apollo was effectively terminated by declining 1960s ebullience and affluence due to the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, Apollo remains a major international symbol of the Sixties.

Although, in their Editorial announcing the new Sixties journal, the editors somehow forgot to mention the most compelling technological and geopolitical theme of the Sixties — the race to space — maybe in time they will rediscover it, because they are on the right track. For example, they sense that the 1960’s produced an ebullience “that continues to initrigue, inspire, confound, amuse, tempt, repel, and capture us.”

In the Sixties, the editors recognize that “all this energy — by parts dignified, militant, uptopian, and delusional — was of great consequence…No recent decade has been so powerfully transformative in much of the world as have the Sixties.”

The Sixties decade “has become plainly iconic.” It continues to “not only define us but remains urgently with us.” But the editors display frustration with their lack of understanding of what created the Sixties’ “transformative longing”: “As time passes, and periodic predictions that a given society or the world is poised for a similar experience prove false, the very fact that ‘the Sixties’ happened at all seems increasingly remarkable.”

We can help them with this one. The last 200 years show that rhythmic, twice-per-century major economic booms create climates of affluence-induced ebullience (known as Maslow Windows) that are momentarily manifested by Great Explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), massive MEPs (e.g., Panama Canal), and a utopian feeling of “transformative longing” (e.g., Apollo). The record shows that exceptional ebullience does not propel all people to elevated levels in Maslow’s heirarchy. Tragically, some trigger major wars.

The Sixties editors prefer to consider the “long Sixties” from 1954 to 1975. According to the 56 year energy/economic cycle, the year 2008 corresponds roughly to (2008 – 56) 1952. So it’s not surprising that academics have renewed interest now in the Sixties. Long-term trends — over the last 200 years — indicate the “new 1960s” will begin in only 5 to 7 years..

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Oct 20 2008

Economic Crisis Supports Maslow Window Forecasts

The current economic crisis that caused so much pain and anxiety as it intensified to a credit meltdown about a month ago, supports Maslow Window forecasts in this weblog and elsewhere. Specifically, the long wave timing and character of the crisis is supportive of the Long Wave/Maslow Window (LW/MW) forecast model first published in Cordell (1996), and more recently in Cordell (2006), and expanded in this weblog. The LW/MW model is summarized HERE.

“We are now in the midst of a major financial panic,” according to author John Steele Gordon in the Wall Street Journal (10/10/08). But there have been several over the last 200 years; Gordon counts 9, including this one.

21stCenturyWaves.com has highlighted a class of panics that follow Maslow Windows; they appear 16 to 18 years after their 56 year energy cycle peaks (peaks are in 1801, 1857, 1913, 1969, 2025). This includes the Panic of 1873, the Great Depression beginning in 1929, and the Crash of 1987 (Black Monday). Gordon asserts that the “ordinary recession” of 1929 degenerated into the disaster known as the Great Depression because the Federal Reserve was ineffective; he believes that it’s reorganization in 1934 kept the Crash of 1987 from having any “lasting effect on the economy.”

Gordon’s mention of the 1819 panic completes the pattern:
Each Maslow Window of the last 200 years is followed by a panic 16-18 years after its energy cycle peak. This supports the LW/MW model by demonstrating that major economic events — in this case, post-Maslow Window panics — of the last 200 years are closely associated in time with long-term fluctuations in the economy.

21stCenturyWaves.com has also characterized a class of panics that predate Maslow Windows by about a decade. For example, the Panic of 1837 preceeded the opening of the mid-19th Century Livingstone Maslow Window (of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” fame) by 10 years and was a time of very high unemployment when 40% of the country’s banks failed. Ironically, about a month ago I was in the process of writing a new post on the Panic of 1893 and its similarities to today — and trying to develop the courage to forecast a similar crisis today (!) — when the credit meltdown occurred. The Panic of 1893 caused estimated unemployment over 10% for 5+ years. It lasted 18 months but was followed by another recession that lasted until 1897. The combination of GDP declines of several % coupled with population growth meant that GDP per capita didn’t recover to 1892 levels until 1899.

Although the Panic of 1893 began about 10 years before the opening of the 1903 Adm. Peary Maslow Window, the 1903-1913 decade featured exceptional ebullience, including the daring, world-famous races to both N. and S. poles, and construction of the greatest MEP of the last 200 years (until Apollo): the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal — the greatest macro-engineering project (until Apollo) of the last 200 years — was constructed during the Peary Maslow Window immediately following the Panic of 1893. Click panama.jpg.

One loose end is the Panic of 1949; according to the pattern, the mid-20th Century Apollo Maslow Window began in 1959 and 10 years earlier we should expect a panic. Of course, happily it didn’t occur. Gordon attributes this to the Fed reorganization of 1934 and the post-W.W. II boom. An important lesson is that long-wave timeframes suggest when certain types of events are likely to occur, not when they must occur. Through knowledge of these long-term patterns, we are capable of avoiding disasters.

But what of the future? Gordon links our current crisis to the birth of huge interstate banks in the 1990s, and “Congress’ attempt to force banks to make home loans to people who had limited creditworthiness…” This “created another crisis in the banking system that is now playing out.” Today the New York Times (page 1) profiles Henry Cisneros, who was President Clinton’s top housing official in the mid-1990s, and one of the inadvertant early architects of the current panic.

The Panic of 2008 began about 7 years before the opening of the next scheduled Maslow Window (near 2015). Although 2008 is roughly the expected timeframe for a panic, long-term trends over the last 200 years suggest it arrived a little late, and could have started in 2005 (about one decade before 2015). Or, this may signal the 2015 Maslow Window itself may open a little late.

It’s likely the Panic of 2008 — and the upcoming 2015 Maslow Window — will have more in common with the pre-Maslow Window panics of 1837 and 1893, than it will with the Great Depression of 1929 — a post-Maslow Window panic. Especially if our political leaders can bring themselves to enact a unified, well-capitalized, appropriately regulated banking system.

Consider the technological wonders of the mid-19th Century Maslow Window — Suez Canal, Great Eastern ship, etc. — and those of the early 20th Century Window — Panama Canal, the Titanic, etc. — and their riveting equatorial Africa and polar region Great Explorations, respectively. How scintillatingly unparalleled for their day, despite their pre-Window panics.

More on what the current panic suggests about our future in an upcoming post.

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Sep 14 2008

Forecasting the Next 20 Years in Space — State of the Wave, Friday 9/12/08

Bruce’s presentation last Thursday to the AIAA Space 2008 Conference in San Diego is now online here.

“Forecasting the Next 20 Years in Space: The New Race to Space,” has 3 purposes: 1) to briefly introduce the macroeconomic and historical data of the last 200 years for Great Explorations, Macro-Engineering Projects, and major wars, and to explain how they provide a framework for 21st Century space and technology forecasts, 2) to explore the basic forecasts themselves for the next 20 years and summarize global events and trends supporting them, and 3) to feature space policy-related implications of the forecasts. The bottomline is that long waves in the economy provide a framework in which major exploring, impressive building, and tragic warrior behavior are especially enabled roughly every 56 years.

The 56 year energy cycle (discovered by Stewart, 1989) provides a remarkable indicator of macroeconomic activity; the energy peaks (e.g., in 1969) correspond directly to peaks in major decade-long economic booms. Indeed, the energy cycle and the better-known Kondratieff waves are directly correlated. And Alexander (2002) has shown that the popular Strauss and Howe (1991) generational cycles are also correlated with (and apparently influenced by) K Waves.

Historical data from the last 200 years clearly show that Great Explorations, massive MEPs, and major wars, cluster near the 56 year energy cycle peaks in 1801, 1857, 1913, and 1969 (and soon 2025). (See the presentation charts and The Articles.)

The close association of Great Explorations, MEPs, and major wars with the 56 year energy/economics cycle suggests the following “Maslow Window” model: Rhythmic, twice-per-century major economic booms create widespread affluence. As societal “Maslow pressures” are reduced, many people ascend the Maslow Heirarchy into an affluence-induced ebullient state and momentarily find exploring and building to be almost irresistible. While others also reach ebullience — but do not ascend the Maslow Heirarchy — and tragically trigger major wars. This unusual confluence of affluence and ebullience creates what we call a “Maslow Window” — a spectacular decade that rapidly declines just after the energy peak. The impressive economic, political, strategic, and scientific parallels between Lewis and Clark and Apollo are, for example, easily explained by this model, as are many other such parallels over the last 200 years.

Projecting the last 200 years into the next 20 suggests that the decade from 2015 to 2025 will be the analog — in the economy, technology, exploration, politics — of the 1960s, complete with a Camelot-style zeitgeist.

Many signs of the times (documented in this weblog) — most good and some bad — support the idea that society is approaching the 2015 Maslow Window, including: the greatest global economic boom ever (July, 2007; momentarily postponed by our current turmoil), energetic international space programs, return of Cold War-like tensions in Europe, birth of the space tourism industry, a global explosion of non-space MEPs (e.g., the $ 5 B Panama Canal expansion), the emergent exploration-loving Millennial generation, and many others.

Policy-related implications of this Maslow Window model abound and include: 1) public ebullience and support for major Maslow programs (e.g., manned Mars) will fade abruptly near the next 56 year energy peak (2025), 2) timing of the expected 2020s major war is a major wildcard, 3) planned human Moon and Mars initiatives should strive for self-sufficiency in space so at least some deep space (i.e., beyond LEO/GEO) operations can continue after Maslow Window closure near 2025, 4) current U.S. Moon base plans and Maslow Window timing appear to preclude American spaceflight to Mars during this Window (next Window opens in 2071), 5) the next rapidly approaching Maslow Window (opening in 2013-15) requires action now, not paralysis by analysis, … and many others.

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Aug 01 2008

NASA's Challenging Future…!

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of NASA’s founding (in 1958) this week, we should keep in mind that this organization has provided some of the greatest exploration and technology thrills imaginable (e.g., 1st on the Moon), and has the potential to do even more as the 2015 Maslow Window starts sliding open in the next 5+ years. However, the number “50” suggests the circumstances will be different.

The Economist (7/24/08) provides some commentary and quotes NASA boss Mike Griffin: “The moon race was more than exploration for its own sake, and a lot more than an exercise in national pride; it was considered a real-life test of the viability of our open society—a vindication of the very concept of freedom.” Although gently dismissed by The Economist, it is true that freedom and exploration are inseparable, especially for Great Explorations and MEPs of the type considered here.

In my opinion, Dr. Griffin is the best NASA Administrator since the 1960s glory days. He’s technologically sophisticated, got his head on straight about what NASA is for, and doesn’t mind enthusiastically telling you about it. In fact, he reminds me a little of Tom Paine, the NASA Administrator during the late Apollo era who had to contend with the likes of the brilliant and dynamic Wernher von Braun. I met Dr. Paine at a 1980s Case For Mars Conference in Boulder and got the sense, as did we all, of what a great visionary he was.

However, NASA has changed since then. There’s a great little book by Howard McCurdy (Inside NASA; 1993) that I highly recommend. NASA started with rapid growth in a crash program (e.g., Apollo Moon vs. the Soviets), and then with the space race won, funding levels dropped and the NASA engineers and scientists aged. And so did NASA.

Emphasizing generational culture and waves, “…the first generation of NASA employees and scientists…(were)…raised during the Great Depression and the Second World War…and accepted the middle-class values of honesty and hard-work as natural parts of life,” according to McCurdy, but NASA’s 2nd generation, “…inherited an organization with much weaker central control and far more bureaucracy.”

That’s where we’ve been until the last few years, when it became fashionable again to speak of a return to the Moon and then Mars. Interestingly, McCurdy’s little hint of a connection between long-term economic trends and generational cycles is supported in more detailed writings (e.g., see The Kondratiev Cycle, by Michael Alexander; 2002) and will play an important role in the future of NASA.

So what’s next for NASA? Is the economy going to crash? Will human spaceflight be swept away? Is the world ending? Well, if you’re looking for gloom and doom, you came to the wrong place. This is a reality-based weblog! It’s based on long-term patterns in macroeconomics, technology, exploration, and society, over the last 200 years. Most media and other commentators do not focus on these long-term timeframes, so naturally their perspectives are limited.

The last 200 years clearly indicate (see Cordell, 2006) that Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects (MEPs) like Apollo are fundamentally driven by long waves in the economy. The next such “Maslow Window” will start near 2015 and run until 2025, unless terminated early by a wildcard. Growing international interest in Moonbases and robotic planetary missions suggest that NASA will flourish if it can do 2 things: 1) make international cooperation and international leadership a fundamental feature of its programs, and 2) move the focus of human spaceflight from LEO to deep space (e.g., the Moon).

If NASA can facilitate the formation of a truly global space organization (e.g., like Interspace) in the next few years, we may be able to avoid a 56-year old replay of a Cold War-style international space race complete with a Sputnik-like shock.

(Incidentally, Economics Contributing Editor Ann Hovey and I just wrote an AIAA paper for September’s Space 2008 conference in San Diego that considers these issues, including economic scenarios. As soon as I get approval from AIAA, I’ll post it on this site.)

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Jul 21 2008

State of the Wave, Friday 7/18/08

Every other Friday the State of the Wave summarizes specific progress toward the opening of the 2015 Maslow Window and movement toward real, near-term space colonization. The focus is on events and trends from around the world of long-range significance, especially in the context of the 10 Wave Guides.

Most of the news from the last 2+ weeks points toward a a developing world scenario that’s potentially reminiscent of pre-Sputnik 1950s times, including increased international capabilities and competition in space. The scenario could become competitive and near 2013 produce a Sputnik-like shock for the U.S., although a Grand Alliance for Space, cooperatively involving all global space powers, is also possible.

If near-term movement toward a global space organization like Interspace is observed, that will signal a Grand Alliance is taking shape. Otherwise a more competitive, Sputnik-style global interaction may become ascendant.

For example, Futron Corporation published their 2008 Space Competitiveness Index in which, “Systemic and competitive forces threaten U.S. space leadership.” acording Futron president Joseph Fuller, Jr.. This comes on top of a recent AP report (7/17/08) that budget problems will preclude a 2013 rollout date for NASA’s new moon rocket; it will slip to 2015.

The eerie, retro pre-Sputnik 1950s feel of today’s State of the Wave is enhanced by the American public’s seeming lack of concern either about the Shuttle’s 5 year gap (starting at 2010) or potential space competitors like China.

Looking into the 2020s, there’s good news and bad news about a potential major war. The University of Maryland’s Peace and Conflict 2008 reports that battle fatalities in major conflicts have dropped since 1946. And the Human Security Report Project documents a recent, significant decline in terrorist events. This must be balanced against the fact that every Maslow Window of the last 200 years has been afflicted by a major war, that’s breached global peace and security and directly or indirectly terminated great explorations.

Impressive activity in Non-Space Macro-Engineering Projects(MEPs) continues to indicate our approach to the 2015 Maslow Window. For example, a recent Airbus Advertising Supplement in Wall Street Journal (7/14/08) states that, “This year will see an acceleration of funding into some seriously fast aircraft programs.” Accordng to Alan Bond of Reaction Engines (a UK company), “The long-term demand for supersonic and hypersonic aircraft will depend on political will,” including China’s interest in establishing fast air routes to North America and Europe.

By the way, the Chicago Tribune last week suggested there might be parallels between President Theodore Roosevelt and John McCain. But their reliability is suspect because they forgot to mention Roosevelt’s huge connection with the Panama Canal — the greatest pre-Apollo MEP of the last 200 years! However, we see more parallels between McCain and Dwight Eisenhower (than with Roosevelt), and — based solely on long-term economic and social trends — see McCain favored this November, and a John F. Kennedy-like candidate (Obama?) favored in 4 or 8 years.

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Jun 30 2008

Panama Canal Expansion Extends to New Orleans!

The massive Panama Canal Expansion project now extends all the way to New Orleans, but even more importantly, it points staight toward the 2015 Maslow Window! Twice per century unparalleled economic booms create exceptional affluence which elevates society to the highest levels of the Maslow Heirarchy. We call this decade-long, ebullient ride up the economic boom a Maslow Window. The chronology of the last 200 years indicates the next one starts near 2015.

Typically, the decade leading up to a Maslow Window displays “early ebullience” in the form of impressive macro-engineering projects (MEPs) and other activities. The cost and global attention associated with these secondary MEPs usually indicate how spectacular the Maslow Window itself will actually be. As I’ve indicated before, there is currently an avalanche of MEPs around the globe, but one of the most ebullient has to be Panama’s.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Panama Canal Expansion Project will require 4.4 million cubic meters of cement and cost $ 5.25 B, about the same (in constant $) as the original Canal. In an ebullient vote, the people of Panama approved this project by 76.2% in October, 2006. According to the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), the Third Set of Locks project will respond to sustained increases in international trade by allowing more and larger ships through the Canal. Scheduled completion date is 2014-2015 — perfect timing to celebrate the 2015 Maslow Window!

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (6/19/08), Port of New Orleans officials anticipate a surge in cargo through the expanded Canal and want to beat the competition (e.g., Houston). Although their new marketing agreement with ACP doesn’t promise New Orleans any business, it identifies New Orleans as an ACP-approved port with whom they share “strong economic and commercial bonds.”. By 2014 New Orleans will have completed a $ 500 M expansion of its port facilities, to capitalize on the enhanced cargo wave from the Canal.

Last week in an international meeting of Latin American port authorities, ACP’s CEO emphasized Panama’s leadership: “It is clear that Panama is emerging as the transportation and logistics hub of the Americas,” said Alemán Zubieta. “Large-scale infrastructural improvements like the Canal expansion and the Pan-American highway, coupled with Panama’s strategic location and proximity to other regional port development projects, make Panama an ideal hub for international commerce.”

In a vast “ocean” of international MEPs, the Panama Canal Expansion stands out as a “tsunami” of early ebullience! We’ll enjoy watching this one closely.

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