George Friedman's The Next 100 Years:  A Forecast for the 21st Century is not yet available, but there's a long and fascinating excerpt at InvestorsInsight.  If some of Friedman's predictions seem nonsensical, the same cannot be said about his conclusion that the least reliable predictor of the future is our expectations.  In the immortal words of investment prospectuses, "past performance is no guarantee of future return."

Friedman dramatically illustrates his point by imagining what observers standing at each even decade from 1900 to 2000 might reasonably have expected the future to be like.  In most cases they would have been proven wrong within a decade.

Here are some of his unreasonable predictions—but consider his reasoning before rejecting them altogether:

American power and influence is not on the wane, but rather ascending.

The war between the United States and the radical Islamists is virtually over and will be little remembered in 100 years.

America's next challenge will be Russia, which will rise, bring on another Cold War, then collapse once again.

Despite appearances, China will be a threat only to itself.

Japan, Turkey, and Poland will become major world powers along with the United States

Increasing tensions will result in a mid-century global war.  This war will be science fiction-like in its execution, and will lead to dramatic technical advances, including space-based solar power, which will jump-start a massive economic boom.

The most important dynamic of the 21st century will be falling birthrates leading to world population decline.  Countries hungry for laborers will openly compete for immigrants rather than turning them away.

Thanks in large measure to the immigration-induced population and power shift, the final crisis of the 21st century will be a major conflict between the United States and an increasingly influential and aggressive Mexico.

Friedman may be 'way off base in his conclusions, or he may be prescient.  Where I am certain he is correct is in his assertion that we must expect the unexpected.  To that end I'm beginning what I hope will be several posts on ways we might prepare to meet whatever is coming our way.

To conclude the beginning, here are a couple of Friedman's thoughts that I found both frightening and comforting:

It is the delight of all societies to belittle their political leaders, and leaders surely do make mistakes. But the mistakes they make, when carefully examined, are rarely stupid. More likely, mistakes are forced on them by circumstance. We would all like to believe that we—or our favorite candidate—would never have acted so stupidly. It is rarely true. Geopolitics therefore does not take the individual leader very seriously, any more than economics takes the individual businessman too seriously.

The twenty-first century will be like all other centuries. There will be wars, there will be poverty, there will be triumphs and defeats. There will be tragedy and good luck. People will go to work, make money, have children, fall in love, and come to hate. That is the one thing that is not cyclical. It is the permanent human condition.

From this you might begin to guess the tenor of my upcoming posts.  Some things never change, and therefore there are ways to face the uncertain future, ways that involve work but not worry, preparation but not panic.  I take as the theme of my approach this admonition given by God to the Israelites, who had been conquered and dragged away into exile in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:5-7):

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 10:34 am | Edit
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