Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Deceptive trends

All bets are off in the world of economic and geographic population forecasting.

The financial crash that left businesses, families and governments reeling also stripped forecasters of reliable trend-lines with which to predict the future.

Today, no one can say with any degree of certainty whether local, state or national economies will grow or decline in the foreseeable future. That's because it's impossible to rely on the trends of the last decade to predict what's going to happen in the next one.

Demographers can't tell us where citizens will live or what kinds of industries will sustain them.

Right now, it's easier to put a man on the moon than to predict what the nation's economy will look like in the next decade.

Why? Because no one alive today has ever seen an economic climate like this in their lifetimes—the worst in 80 years.

From the late 1990s until late last year, the only way was up—more money, more development, more toys and gadgets.

The trend could not and did not stand.

The global economic earthquake has left its victims shaken and uncertain. Americans have stopped moving and started saving. Upstart industries are trying to grow while older industries are desperately trying to reinvent themselves.

New, more reliable trends eventually will establish themselves. But until then, government and business should cast a skeptical eye on economic and population forecasts.

The recent past will not become present. To believe otherwise is to risk folly and to bet the future on a bubble that burst.

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