LETTER: 2019 and Beyond
To the editor:
The US/World environment has become more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) as government and business organizations see it. This environment is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Most of the information that follows comes from organizations such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MIT, World Economic Forum, and other various governmental and professional sources. Not every trend or forecast is good or bad and many reflect new and encouraging opportunities. Specifically, a few world/national/Seattle trends/forecasts are:
• Digitization: Transformation of organizations, products, services, crime, war, to digital wherever possible, leading to a potential loss of security, and continual need to upgrade skills. Digital devices will become smaller, lighter, faster, and more interconnected by the billions. Smart phones will provide real-time language translation, serve as health monitors, education platforms, financial managers, confidants, counselors, coaches, and teachers as processing speeds begin to exceed the processing speed of the human brain; communication bandwidth becomes essentially unlimited; and applications become artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality enabled. Robots will become caregivers for old and young alike as well as the disabled. Physical wars will be increasingly fought with robots as will policing. Information warfare will increase, both in cyber space as well as physical space and will be both internationally driven as well as domestically driven—think in terms of domestic civil wars between various groups of people. Many transportation and manufacturing activities will be automated with a loss of millions of jobs. Considering truck driving alone with around 5 million drivers, the loss of jobs in trucking and other fields could be in the tens of millions nation-wide due to increasing automation and mechanization. Jobs that are high skilled and low routine will be safe for now. Low skilled and high routine jobs may become more vulnerable.
• Energy: an increasing demand for energy and a gradual replacement of fossil fuels with solar, wind, geothermal, and possibly nuclear. Energy needs may double over the next 20 years and at the same time, a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
• Climate change: leading to a rapid extinction of species, loss of fresh water and arable land, warming oceans and land, loss of forest land, ocean acidification, raising sea levels, and human and other species migrations. Bugs and disease will move north; some villages, towns, and cities may be forced to retreat from rising seas. Snow pack will be reduced resulting in shorter snow seasons and reduced snowpack meaning less fresh water available and shorter winter sports seasons.
• Destruction: Increasing deforestation; pollution (such as plastic, greenhouse gases, and other contaminants); and over harvesting of fisheries and sea foods.
• Transportation: increasing gridlock in cities with continued lost time in commuting. Increasing need and demand for transportation such as bus, light-rail, and autonomous vehicles.
• Demographics: a continued decline in the percentage of Caucasians with an increase in percentages of minority groups including Asians, African-Americans, and Hispanics. US population will increase from about 310 million people today to around 400 million by 2040-2050, with about 50% living in 8 states and 70% living in 16 states with most of them living in cities. Caucasians will make up less than 50% of the US population within 25 years. Currently the US is about 80% urban/suburban and 20% rural and over the next 20 to 30 years, there will be continued migration from rural to urban areas. Population aging (about 10,000 people a day reach age 65 in the US) will increase thus requiring more health care, elder care, financial care, and adequate housing. The Seattle area is expected to increase by over 1 million people over the next 10-15 years.
• The US now ranks 33/34 of the OECD nations in terms of obesity.
• The top 10-30% of the population will become more mobile, educated, technologically savvy, with a continued decline of religious belief.
• Increasing inequality in terms of wealth, income, charitable giving, education, civic involvement, housing, health / lifespan, and opportunity.
• The top 85 people in the world have as much money as the bottom 3.5 billion people.
• The top 5% in the US make up about 35% of the consumption of goods and services
• US student loan debt exceeds credit card debt and is about $1.5 trillion dollars and growing.
• About 20% of the US GDP or about $3 trillion dollars/year is spent on health care.
• An increasing cost of living, especially in major high-technology cities.
• US social security funds will diminish by around 2035 without significant policy changes.
• Retirement may be postponed for many people given that savings is not keeping up with longevity. Retirement age may likely have to be raised from 65, 66, or 67 to perhaps 70 or above.
• An increasing global demand for products and services (good for Seattle) with an increasing need for solutions to social, political, and environmental problems.
• Increasing polarization and fragmentation.
• Potential realignment of Republican and Democratic parties.
• Potential realignment of cities/states/US based on population size and growth, economics, culture, and political power.