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Gazing into the crystal ball ...
by Ann McFeatters
Block News Alliance


March 05, 2005

Washington - I have just received news about the future. Some of it's good. Some of it, sadly, is not.

Futurists Marvin Cetron, president of Forecasting International, and Owen Davies, who have collaborated on many books, have come up with a forecast of trends the World Future Society thinks everyone should consider.

In their new report, they aren't speculating about zany modes of transportation, such as Steve Fossett's remarkable if uncomfortable plane journey around the world without refueling, or strange sci-fi pods we'll call home or telepathy or miracle weight-loss techniques. They've focused on short-term trends, already under way, that they say will shape the way we live in some surprising ways.

If you're a skilled worker, you're gold in the world of tomorrow because labor markets will remain tight. But what they call a "hypercompetitive business environment" will shun sticks in the mud, demanding more speed, creativity and innovation. If you're really good at what you do in a growth field, think "profit-sharing." But, alas, worker and company loyalty are gone.

Unless immigration rules are relaxed, older workers will have to stay on the job much longer _ the average retirement age in 20 years will be in the mid-70s, and soon there will be no full Social Security benefits until age 72. Second and third careers will be common. The goal of the young will be to become entrepreneurs.

People called "knowledge workers," meaning those who deal in ideas and numbers instead of those who make things, will be more important and better paid. But there will be far fewer mid-level managers. And telecommuting from home will become standard. The digital divide will disappear - black, Hispanic, Asian and white children will be equally computer-savvy.

Average annual world population growth peaked in 1963 and will continue to decline for the next 50 years - except in the world's poorest regions, where population will soon double. Even so, from 6.08 billion people on the face of the globe in 2000, the world is likely to grow to 9.15 billion by 2049. Now that is a social security problem.

Despite the eagerness of Europeans to topple the United States as the world's economic powerhouse, that won't happen, according to the economists Cetron and Davies consulted. They contend the United States will stay dominant, followed by China and then the European Union.

If you've just spent a fortune for a house, consider it a good investment. The housing market is expected to stay robust in the United States. (And many of us will have personal robots in another decade to vacuum and mow the grass!)

People will be living longer, with breakthroughs expected in geriatric illnesses such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease supposed to keep the average health-care bill from getting even more out of control. On the other hand, public spending on retirement benefits could be an astronomical one-fourth of the nation's entire gross domestic product in 50 years. Within a few decades, one out of every four people in the developed world will be over 65, up from one out of seven. And, worldwide, there will be a shortage of doctors who treat the elderly.

But the Internet, travel and mass media are making the world smaller, migration is booming and cultural and ethnic diversity are gaining acceptance. In 15 years, the Chinese will replace Americans, Japanese and Germans as the world's biggest tourists. Meanwhile, the United States is converting everyone into shoppers - consumerism, with its emphasis on discounts, is booming worldwide.

On the other hand, some countries are seeing more backlashes against foreign workers. And militant Islamists, although a tiny percentage of Muslims, are becoming more prevalent.

Feminism as a cause is disappearing in developed countries because young people ("Generation X'ers and millennials") don't see any problem. But only one-fifth of U.S. corporate board members are women, and women still don't make as much as men _ and won't for some time. However, as more women (64 percent) than men (60 percent) go to college, this could change in a generation.

Loss of privacy is here to stay. Government obtrusiveness is endemic, and so is the prevalence of surveillance cameras. Soon, no matter where you are, it'll be a matter of "Smile, you're being photographed."

Oil consumption is still rising, but domestic U.S. production will cease in about half a century, with the Middle East as important as ever and new sources of oil coming from Russia and China. Water shortages, however, are becoming more acute and will cause even more famine and desertification.

Environmental problems will grow, with refuse, loss of biodiversity, global warming and urbanization plaguing every country. But transportation in general will be "faster, cheaper and safer, by land, sea and air."

Time will become "the world's most precious commodity," which means we'll all be battling stress even more. But, given the alternative, it's worth it to stick around as long as possible to see if any of this turns out to be true.

Ann McFeatters is Washington bureau chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Toledo Blade. E-mail amcfeatters(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service

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