Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Web Log - May, 2005


Political earthquake continues, as French decisively reject European Constitution

European nationalism continues to grow as "Preserving national identity" trumps "Europe built around peace"

Stunned politicians throughout Europe are scrambling to cope with the rejection, by an overwhelming 55%-45% vote of the proposed EU Constitution. The rejection was especially convincing in view of the unusually high turnout of 70%, and appears to be part of a mounting European political crisis.

France, the most important founding member of the EU, thus became the first country to reject the European Constitution, which throws the entire Union's future in doubt. The EU can go on as it has before, but this vote will encourage nationalistic feelings in other EU countries.

In particular, another founding country, Holland, will hold a similar referendum on Wednesday, and is also expected to vote NO. Holland has been getting increasingly nationalistic since November 2, when filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist.

Countries in Eastern Europe will be especially appalled by the vote. Those who campaigned against ratification in the French referendum used the phrase "Preserving national identity," which are code words for the desire to avoid being in the same Union as 24 other countries. During the campaigning, the low-paid Polish plumber who steals a job away from a well-paid Frenchman became the symbol of the opponents.

That's not surprising. With an unemployment rate above 10 per cent, concern about job security is widespread, and the Constitution, as well as the élite who are promoting it, are easy targets.

Those who campaigned for ratification used the phrase, "Europe built around peace." The clearest statement was a voter was interviewed on the BBC: "My grandfather fought in World War I. My father fought in World Wars I and II. I fought in World War II. And now, for 60 years, my children and grandchildren have lived in peace. That's a good enough reason to me to vote 'yes' on the Constitution."

From this statement, you might have guessed what the BBC reported about pre-election polls: They showed that the only age group that was polling in favor of the Constitution was the elderly. These were people who grew up during WW II and lived through the horror and terror of the war with Germany. For these people, another war must be avoided at all costs.

The Generational Dynamics theory is based on the observation that generations born after a crisis war have a completely different world view from those who grew up during a crisis war. We're seeing that generational difference manifest itself in this referendum.

Some analysts are predicting that the French will come to their senses, and the Constitution will be ratified in a new referendum to be held next year. But that's nonsense. There's a generational change going on, as the generations that still have a personal memory of WW II are quickly dying off, replaced by new generations that are more worried about their jobs than about war.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Europe is headed for a new crisis war. This should be no surprise to anyone who's read European history of the last 1000 years. We do not yet know how countries will choose sides in this war, but right now it looks pretty certain that England and France will have yet another war with one another. (30-May-05) Permanent Link
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The Conflict Risk Index: Depicting the current State of the World

I've been looking for a simple graphic that where we (the world) stand at any given time.

The problem is this: Generational Dynamics tells us that we're headed for a "clash of civilizations" world war with near 100% certainty, but doesn't tell us what will trigger this war. As usual, the Generational Dynamics Forecasting Methodology tells us our final destination, but not how we'll get there.

To address this problem last year, I wrote an article on The Six Most Dangerous Regions of the World, to identify the regions that might trigger such a war. In that article, I was able to compute the probability of a world war beginning in each year, and I found it to be 22-24% each year for the next five years.

That computation was based on the following assumption: That a regional war in any of the six dangerous regions would be enough to trigger a world war, often because America has defense agreements that commit us to enter many wars. These include agreements with Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Europe (NATO), Israel, and Australia and New Zealand (ANZUS).

So, for example, if China attacks Taiwan, or if Syria attacks Israel, then America will be required to enter the war, and the war will spread within a few months to a world war.

In addition, there are two other crises that would almost certainly trigger a world war: A major international financial crisis, and a bird flu epidemic.

Each of these regions and potential crises changes on a regular basis. I wanted to develop a graphic that I could easily update regularly to show the current "State of the World."

I came up with the following graphic:

Conflict risk level for next 6-12 months as of: 30-May-2005
W. Europe 1 Arab Israeli 2
Russia Caucasus 2 Kashmir 1
China 2 North Korea 3
Financial 3 Bird flu 3
Key: 1=green 1=Low risk 2=yellow 2=Med 3=red 3=High 4=black 4=Active

The idea is that this graphic should not change more often than a few times a year.

A second form of the graphic contains textual comments. The comments might change more often, even if the individual risk assessments don't:

Conflict risk level by region/type for next six months
As of: 30-May-2005
W. Europe 1 Rising nationalism and ethnic tensions, but no overt national hostilities yet
Arab Israeli 2 Détente between Sharon and Abbas has eased tensions, but Hizbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran are preparing for war
Russia Caucasus 2 Simmering tensions after Beslan massacre and Ukraine election cools as Putin becomes less overtly belligerent
Kashmir 1 Détente between Pakistan's Musharaff and India's Singh has significantly eased tensions
China 2 China is unraveling internally and is mobilizing for eventual war with US and Japan over Taiwan, as Taiwanese opinion shifts towards independence
North Korea 3 Kim Jong-il mobilizing for war at any time against South Korea and Japan
Financial 3 Recent losses in highly leveraged hedge funds are leading to a shakeout that may cause market meltdown
Bird flu 3 World Health Organization warns that pandemic might be imminent
Key: 1=green 1=Low risk 2=yellow 2=Med 3=red 3=High 4=black 4=Active

As time goes on, I'll update these graphics.

My analysis leads me to conclude that all of these wars and crises will be triggered in time. History tells us that once one of these crises begins (a crisis war in one of the six regions, a major financial crisis, or a bird flu pandemic), then the others will follow in a cascade during the next two to three years.

Finally, I wanted to prepare a retrospective version of this graphic for comparison. This turns out to be hard to do, since you have to adjust your frame of mind to remember how things were at a specific date in the past.

Conflict risk level by region/type for next six months
As of: 10-Oct-2004
W. Europe 1 Rising tensions, but no overt national hostilities yet
Arab Israeli 2 Arafat's illness is stirring Palestinian strife while Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan is angering Israelis
Russia Caucasus 3 Simmering tensions after Beslan massacre and Ukraine election cools as Putin becomes less overtly belligerent
Kashmir 2 Détente between Pakistan's Musharaff and India's Singh is easing tensions
China 2 China is unraveling internally and is mobilizing for eventual war with US and Japan over Taiwan, as Taiwanese opinion shifts towards independence
North Korea 2 Kim Jong-il is becoming increasingly belligerent, preparing for eventual takeover of South Korea under his control
Financial 1 Unemployment remains high, stocks are rising as the election approaches
Bird flu 2 WHO is downplaying fear of immediate pandemic, but recommends preparation
Key: 1=green 1=Low risk 2=yellow 2=Med 3=red 3=High 4=black 4=Active

By comparing the two, you can see that the Russia situation has cooled since October, but tensions have increased considerably among China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. (30-May-05) Permanent Link
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Pope Benedict XIV pledges to end rift with Orthodox Christians

The whole concept is misguided, and besides, my grandmother would never have stood for it.

In a Sunday visit to Bari, Italy, a city which is symbolic in the relationship between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the new Pope Benedict XIV pledged to make healing the 1,000-year-old rift with the Orthodox church a "fundamental" commitment of his papacy.

My mother always enjoyed retelling this story of her own mother in the 1930s Chicago: Since there was no nearby Greek Orthodox Church, she would frequently attend Sunday services at a neighborhood Catholic Church. She contributed to the Catholic Church, and became friendly with the Priest. One day, the Priest said to her, "You've been so good to us, and you're so devoted to God. Why don't you consider converting and becoming a Catholic?"

My grandmother was infuriated, and replied, "If I converted, then I would be no good to either you or myself." And she never returned to that Church or spoke to that Priest again.

I'll bet that a lot of Greek Orthodox are having similar thoughts today, hearing that the Pope wants to reconcile. They aren't at war, so what's to reconcile? Does the Pope think that some Greek Orthodox will convert to Catholicism? My grandmother would be laughing in her grave.

Incompatible religions

History has made Catholic and Orthodox Christianity basically incompatible religions. The difference can be illustrated forcefully by the following: There are Catholic missionaries in China whose purpose is to convert people to the Catholic religion, but there are no Greek Orthodox missionaries in China to convert people to the Greek Orthodox religion.

In fact, anyone can become Catholic by agreeing to be baptized. But to become Greek Orthodox you pretty much have to, well, become Greek, or at least marry a Greek.

After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and massacred thousands of Jews in a crisis war that climaxed in 66 AD, Christianity began to spread throughout the Roman Empire, centered in the West in Rome and in the East in Byzantium (later Constantinople) in what is now Turkey. Later, when the Roman Empire collapsed, Constantinople became the "second Rome," and the center of the "orthodox" or "true" version of Christianity, presumably the direct descendant of Jesus' original teachings.

But the Catholic religion was born with a remarkable difference: It became a "stateless religion." Although centered at the Vatican in Rome, it was independent of Italy. When the Germans sacked Rome, they adopted Christianity, combining it with some of their former pagan beliefs, creating the Catholic religion. In order to survive, the Catholics had to declare themselves independent of any state, so that the religion could survive any invasions and conquests.

The Orthodox religions have always been closely related to the state. Constantinople was the center of both an empire and a religion. The Catholics competed with the Byzantines to gain the favor of Prince Vladimir of Kiev, and in 988 he adopted the Orthodox religion for himself and his people, the Slavs. When the Slav culture moved east to Moscow, the Russian Empire adopted it, and it became the Russian Orthodox religion.

For the Greek Orthodox, the seminal moment in their relationship with the Catholics came with the Crusades, the same Crusades that the Muslims complain about. In 1204, along the way to fighting the Muslims, the Crusades sacked Constantinople, starving and murdering its citizens, and plundering the Church's treasures accumulated over the centuries. The deed was capped by placing a prostitute on the Emperor's throne at the church of St. Sophia, at that time the most beautiful church in Christendom.

Though 1204 was a long time ago, this moment is burned into Greeks' minds. When Pope John Paul II visited Athens in May, 2001, he was met with anti-Catholic demonstrations and violence. Finally, the Pope said, "For occasions past and present, when the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by actions and omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him."

So now what?

So, Pope Benedict XIV pledges to end the rift with Orthodox Christians. Exactly what is Benedict going to do that John Paul didn't do? Is he going to apologize harder? Is he going to return some of the treasures that were plundered in 1204? I assume not.

But there's still more to the story.

Pope tries to end rift with Orthodox Church

One of the most significant events in world history in the last millennium was the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans (Muslims) in 1453, renaming the city Istanbul. This ended the Byzantine Empire once and for all.

In 1472, Pope Paul II saw this as an opportunity unify the Churches. He arranged for Russian Grand Prince Ivan the Great to marry Sophia, a Byzantine princess, hoping to draw them both into the Catholic Church, along with all of Russia. The move backfired, as Sophia convinced Ivan to declare Moscow as the "third Rome," and himself the first Czar (a word derived from the name "Caesar") of the entire Orthodox ("true") Church.

So Benedict XIV is not the first Pope to try to "reach out" to the Orthodox Church.

Actually, the Orthodox and Western civilizations are about as different from one another as the Western and Muslim civilizations, and have fought as many wars, most recently in World Wars I and II. All three civilizations fought a crisis war together in the Balkans in the 1990s.

As we approach the "clash of civilizations" world war, it's worthwhile remembering that there are these three civilizations, and that the fault lines between them did not develop in either the Clinton administration or the Bush administration; they developed centuries ago, and no mere pledges to reconcile are going to make much difference today, as my grandmother could have told you. (29-May-05) Permanent Link
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PlayStation 5 will be as powerful as the human brain

British Telecom Futurologist Ian Pearson looks ahead ten years.

Every five years, a new generation of game consoles comes out, and the time is now.

Microsoft showed off the new XBOX 360 at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), at the Los Angeles Convention Centre.

Screen shot for <i>EA Sports Fight Night Round 3</i> for the PS3
Screen shot for EA Sports Fight Night Round 3 for the PS3

And Sony announced the Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3), scheduled for delivery early next year.

Pointing to the specifications of PlayStation 3, futurologist Ian Pearson noted that "[The SP3] is into supercomputer status compared to 10 years ago." Pearson is head of the futurology unit at British Telecom's and Britain's leading thinker on the future.

Pearson highlighted the fact that the SP3 is 35 times more powerful than previous consoles, and did a little math: "The new PlayStation is one per cent as powerful as a human brain. [Therefore,] PlayStation 5 will probably be as powerful as the human brain."

I personally think it's more likely to be PlayStation 6 rather than PS5, but let's not quibble over 5 more years.

He added, "We're already looking at how you might structure a computer that could possibly become conscious. There are quite a lot of us now who believe it's entirely feasible."

That's certainly true. As we discussed in conjunction with the release of the movie I, Robot. Supercomputers will be as intelligent as human beings by 2010 or so, and autonomous super-intelligent desktop or mobile computers will be surging in the 2020s, and will take over a variety of jobs: a computer plumber, a computer nursemaid, a computer soldier.

Even more striking is that the Army is planning to deploy its "Future Combat System" which calls for autonomous robot soldiers by 2014. In fact, the development of super-intelligent computers is proceeding rapidly in countries around the work.

The Singularity
The Singularity

By the 2020s, intelligent robots will also be doing scientific research to develop improved versions of themselves, so that intelligent robots will eventually be far more intelligent than human beings. The point in time where intelligent robots are essentially in control of their own destiny is called "The Singularity," because there will be a bend in the exponential growth technology curve, as shown in the adjoining graphic. There is no way to have any idea what's going to happen to the world after that point.

My own estimate is that the Singularity will occur between 2025 and 2030, though other analysts' estimates put it as late as 2040 or 2050. (27-May-05) Permanent Link
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German election signals major European political realignment

The unexpected landslide victory of a woman known as Germany's Margaret Thatcher is being called "an earthquake" in German politics.

Angela Merkel, CDU leader <font size=-2>(Source: BBC)</font>
Angela Merkel, CDU leader (Source: BBC)

Analysts are describing it as shocking as if Republicans had taken over the state of Massachusetts in America.

For four decades, the liberal Social Democratic Party (SDP) had been firmly in control of Germany's largest province, North Rhine-Westphalia. But on Sunday, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party took control of the district, winning a landslide victory in the regional elections.

This has turned into a confrontation between the two parties' leaders:

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, SDU leader <font size=-2>(Source: BBC)</font>
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, SDU leader (Source: BBC)

A Schröder/Merkel contest in the fall would draw a lot of international attention. Merkel will be the first major European woman leader since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1980s. And like Thatcher, Merkel is a conservative, which is why Merkel is being called the "new Margaret Thatcher."

An interesting comparison of this election with the recent re-election of Tony Blair in Britain and last year's re-election of George Bush in U.S. is that in all cases there's no difference in policy between the principle candidates except posturing. George Bush and John Kerry had identical policies in Iraq, and the same was true of Tony Blair and Michael Howard in Britain.

Merkel is much more pro-American than Schröder, but Merkel has already said that she won't have Germany join the American-led coalition in Iraq.

The main issue in Germany is the economy. Germany has been going through a long period of double-digit unemployment, and economic growth has been almost non-existent.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this is not surprising. Generational Dynamics predicts that Europe is entering the same 1930s style Great Depression that America is entering. And, like America, Germany increasingly has a hollowed-out economy unable to produce products that people actually want to buy.

The difference between America and European countries including Germany is that America's increasing debt is being financed by countries around the world, mainly in Asia, purchasing US Treasury notes in high volume. No Asian countries are doing the same favor for Europe.

Schröder has been addressing the economic problems by implementing a series of very painful, very unpopular economic reforms, such cuts to welfare and benefits. Merkel has promised to continue implementation of reforms, but to do them better. Her position is reminiscent of John Kerry's promise during the 1994 campaign to follow the same Iraq policy, but to do it better.

The net of all this is that, for all the bitterness between Schröder and Merkel, there's simply no substantive difference between their policies, even though one is "liberal" and the other is "conservative." This is exactly what happened in Britain and America, and it's what happens to any country during a "generational crisis" period, since the people of the country start to unite around common policies to guarantee that the nation and its way of life will continue as before.

For Generational Dynamics, the importance of any event is how it demonstrates shifts of opinion among masses of people, because these shifts indicate likely directions (allies and enemies) as the nation heads towards its next crisis war.

In 2002, Schröder survived near defeat by adopting an anti-American stance on the war in Iraq. Prior to the current election, Schröder used bitterly anti-American, anti-British and anti-Jewish rhetoric, in the hope of repeating his 2002 success. The victory of pro-American Merkel makes it clear that German public opinion is not nearly as anti-American and anti-British as the French are. This corresponds to my own experience doing business in Europe in the 1970s. At that time, it was pretty apparent to me that the Germans liked Americans, and the French hated Americans.

The German public attitudes towards Britain and America tell us some information about how Germany will choose side in a future war between France and England. People are often surprised at the thought of a new war between France and England, but they've had regular wars since before 1066, and it should be no surprise that they're expected to have a new one. In the imminent "clash of civilizations" world war in the Mideast, my expectation is that Britain and America will be on the Israeli side, and France will be on the Palestinian side. The current election tells us that the German are more likely to be on the English side than on the French side.

We'll get a little more information next week. France is voting on ratifying the new EU constitution on Sunday, and Holland is voting three days later. France had been expected to vote YES, but polling in recent weeks indicates that the NO side is now a majority.

A French vote against ratifying the EU constitution will be considered a major setback to the EU as a whole. The outcome of the French and Dutch referenda will provide more information about the cohesiveness of the EU.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the European Union is not heading toward becoming a viable united nations. After the war, the EU will make another attempt and will almost certainly succeed at that time. In the ruins of the post-war "austerity period," issues will be resolved in a way that benefits the entire continuent, which is not the case today. These issues will include the economy, and one more difficult issue that we haven't mention: Whether Turkey should be a member of the EU. (25-May-05) Permanent Link
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Iraqi Sunni and Shi'ite clerics call for restraint

Analysts, pundits and journalists are still predicting civil war, and they're still getting it wrong.

For two years, journalists, pundits and high-priced analysts have been predicting a civil war in Iraq.

Last August, the Boston Globe reported on the front page that the civil war appeared to have begun.

The predictions of civil war in Iraq have gotten louder in the last few weeks, thanks to the rise in car bombings by insurgents. There were special concerns because the insurgents, who are believed to support the Sunnis, have been targetting Shi'ite clerics.

But nothing of the sort is happening. On Sunday, Iraq's religious factions called for restraint.

The calls were lead by Moqtada al-Sadr. Remember him? He's the Shi'ite cleric who many pundits predicted last year would lead the civil war. But it seems, as I predicted over and over, that he would not lead a civil war because a civil war was impossible.

This is a good example of how the simplest understanding of Generational Dynamics in our newsrooms, our government and other institutions would make a substantial improvement in these people understanding what's going on in the world, and would even prevent some mistakes.

The reason that a civil war is still impossible in Iraq is because Iraq is in a "generational awakening" period. Only one generation has passed since the genocidal Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s, and no civil war ever occurs just one generational after a crisis war. The reason is that the people who lived through the war and were traumatized by the war consider the war so horrible that it should never happen again, and they'll do anything to avoid fighting such a war.

As I wrote last year, Iran's awakening period is similar to America's last generational awakening period, which occurred in the 1960s, just one generation past World War II. Generational awakening periods are characterized by political hostility between older and younger generations, but there is no civil war.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the world is in a "generational crisis period." We're at a unique time in history, 60 years after the end of WW II, and all countries that fought in that war are in crisis periods.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, we're headed for a "clash of civilizations" world war that will pit Western nations and allies against Muslim nations and allies. Last year, when I wrote about the six most dangerous regions of the world, to identify the regions that might trigger such a war.

However, Iraq is not one of those regions. (23-May-05) Permanent Link
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South Korea signals that it might stop purchasing US Treasury bonds

Meanwhile, Financial Times speculates about "a larger market meltdown."

In an interview with the Financial Times yesterday, Park Seung, the governor of the Bank of [South] Korea said, “I believe that we now have sufficient reserves to secure our sovereign credibility, so I do not anticipate increasing the amount of foreign reserves further."

This follows by one day the report that Norway is selling off half of its US Treasury Bond holdings.

By using the phrase "foreign reserves," Park did not mention the US Treasury bond specifically, but that is evidently what he meant, as South Korea has been one of the largest purchasers of these bonds in the past. He added, “We now need to take more consideration of profitability, and I think we're at a stage where we need to manage our reserves in a more useful way.”

When South Korea made a similar remark in February, it caused a sharp reaction in the bond market, as the price of 10-year Treasury bonds fell sharply.

However, yesterday's announcement produced no such result. In fact, bond prices actually rose yesterday.

Why is that? Because hedge fund investors have been moving away from risky corporate bonds to safer US Treasuries, ever since S&P changed its rating last week on GM and Ford, giving their debt "junk bond" status, as we discussed a week ago. Thus, hedge funds investors are taking the place of central banks in purchasing Treasury bonds, and keeping their prices up.

(Incidentally, when bond prices go up, the interest rates they pay go down. 10-year Treasury bonds closed yesterday at 4.098%, the lowest it's been in a while, which means that home mortgage rates will be down again.)

Things are changing rapidly on the world economic scene, as the use of hedge funds has been increasing exponentially in the last few months and the last year. These funds are largely unregulated, and permit highly leveraged investments with varying amounts of risk.

During the 1930s Great Depression, officials blamed the stock market crash on the common 1920s practice of purchasing stocks on "margin" or credit. So 1930s politicians passed regulations and created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other agencies to guarantee that credit would be strictly regulated, and that no 1920s-type stock market bubble would every occur again.

Well the SEC and the FED obviously completely failed to prevent the 1990s stock market bubble, and they've also failed to regulate credit, given that America's level of public debt is the highest in history.

But now we see that hedge funds are the vehicle that have replaced "margin" sales as a form of unregulated credit purchases. The increasingly rapid rise in the use of these unregulated credit vehicles indicates that they're creating exactly the same kind of instability and risk that margin credit did in the 1920s.

I'm not the only one that this has occurred to. In a speech yesterday, Sir Andrew Large, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England warned that the rapidly expanding market of credit derivatives is "tricky and opaque," and that they threaten the stability of financial markets.

“Credit risk transfer has introduced new holders of credit risk, such as hedge funds and insurance companies, at a time when market depth is untested,” he said. “The growth of derivative instruments ... (has) added to the risk of instability arising through leverage, volatility and opacity.” He called for increased regulation.

All of this extreme volatility is causing analysts more and more to consider the possibility of a complete market meltdown, according to an article in yesterday's Financial Times.

“Two weeks ago, we might have said that the chances of a market meltdown were 1 per cent, but now we might put it nearer 10 per cent,” said an analyst at a large American bank. “The issue is being talked about.”

The article lists two scenarios that might lead to such a meltdown:

“If we were to see significant hedge fund redemptions and further unwinding of credit exposure as a result, it would ... turn a weak market that is suffering from poor liquidity into a meltdown,” the article quotes a major investment banker as saying.

Meanwhile, investors are gorging themselves on stocks on a massive buying spree. The Wall Street stock markets rose by 1% yesterday, and at midday today (Thursday), Asian stock markets in Japan and South Korea are incredibly more than 2% higher.

Many people consider this to be good news, but unfortunately it's not. It doesn't mean that the stock market is going to continue to rise, any more than a November heat wave in New York City means that winter isn't coming. As we're predicted since 2002, the stock market is going to fall to the Dow 3000-4000 range with 100% certainty, and a stock market rise now simply means that the stock market has just that much farther to fall, whether the fall occurs next week, next month, or next year. (19-May-05) Permanent Link
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Bird flu virus evolving into form more likely to cause human pandemic

New mutations of the virus appear to permit human to human infection, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be issued soon.

The new mutated strains are being found in northern Vietnam, where the worst outbreaks have occurred this year. Until recently, researchers believed that all infections came about from handling poultry, and millions of birds have been culled (killed), as directed by authorities.

However, new strains of the bird flu have characteristics that indicate that "it's possible" that human to human transmission is already occurring, according to WHO research.

The most important of these changes is that the virus is becoming less virulent. Early versions of the virus have killed 75% of those infected, but the new strains are killing fewer people. This is a sign of human to human transmission because a less virulent strain is more likely to be transmitted among humans to large groups of people.

Mutations have caused other changes as well. Asymptomatic infections have been detected, meaning that some people are "carriers" of the disease, but have not developed symptoms. In addition, a wider range of people are being infected than before. These changes are consistent with a virus which is mutating to adapt to human to human transmission, and human pandemic transmission.

Apparently the worst case mutation has not yet occurred. The worst case mutation will occur when one human being gets the bird flu and the ordinary human flu at the same time. The two flu viruses could recombine within a single human body into a new, mutated variant that could have almost the virulence of the bird flu, but with the easy human to human transmission of ordinary human flu.

WHO officials are warning that a major flu pandemic could occur at any time, including this year. We're overdue for a major flu epidemic, and it's possible that a bird flu pandemic would have the same mortality rate as the Spanish Flu of 1918. The major flu epidemics since then are as follows:

    1918 Spanish flu killed 50m
    1957 Asian flu killed about 1m
    1968 Hong Kong flu killed 1m
    2003 Sars killed 774
    2004-5 Bird / Avian flu (H5N1) has killed 50 to date
    Source: BBC

WHO is encouraging government health organizations around the world to prepare for a pandemic, although the time of a pandemic cannot be predicted.

A potential bird flu is relevant to this web site because a bird flu pandemic might trigger a major worldwide financial crisis, and might trigger a major civil war in China. (18-May-05) Permanent Link
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Stock market frenzy follows Washington yuan-bashing

In an almost meaningless gesture, the Bush administration harshly warned China to revalue its currency within a year, with an implied threat of financial sanctions. (For actual Treasury Dept. statement, click here.)

This move has absolutely no chance whatsoever to improve America's financial picture,

Dow Jones index, minute by minute, on 17-May-2005 <font size=-2>(Source: Yahoo)</font>
Dow Jones index, minute by minute, on 17-May-2005 (Source: Yahoo)

Nonetheless, giddy investors used the gesture as an excuse to spike stocks up. As the adjacent diagram shows, the DJIA was relatively flat all day, until about 2 pm, when Treasury made its announcement about the yuan. After that, the index suddenly took off, rising over 100 points in the two hours remaining of the trading day.

Thus ended another wild, volatile trading today, a kind that we're seeing more and more. As we've written lately, this is an ominous sign because it means that investors are making buy/sell decisions based on their view about where the entire stock market is going, rather than on their evaluations of the individual stocks. This kind of volativity occurs before a stock market crash, though it doesn't mean that a crash must occur at this time.

The Treasury Department Statement was issued because Washington politicians have been increasingly vocal in criticizing China for harming America by supplying products at such low prices that factories and jobs have been leaving America and moving to China. China maintains the low prices by fixing the exchange rate for the yuan to the dollar, and not allowing the exchange rate to float.

The statement does not accuse China of manipulating currency exchange rates, but it's so harsh that it has the smell of desperation:

"The report finds that no major trading partner of the United States met the technical requirements of the statute for designation [as being guilty of manipulating currency exchange rates] during the period covered, which is the second half of 2004. However, it would be a mistake to interpret this conclusion as acquiescence with the foreign exchange policies of many of America's trading partners. In fact Treasury is actively engaged with several economies to promote the adoption of flexible, market-based exchange policies and to help facilitate broader adjustment. Most notable among these is China.

China's rigid currency regime has become highly distortionary. It poses risks to the health of the Chinese economy, such as sowing the seeds for excess liquidity creation, asset price inflation, large speculative capital flows, and over-investment. It also poses risks to its neighbors, since their ability to follow more independent and anti-inflationary monetary policies is constrained by competitiveness considerations relative to China. Sustained, non-inflationary growth in China is important for maintaining strong global growth and a more flexible and market-based renminbi exchange rate would help the Chinese achieve this goal.

A more flexible system will also support economic stability, which we understand is of paramount concern to Chinese leadership. China's ten-year-long pegged currency regime may have contributed to stability in the past, but that is no longer the case today, as China has grown to be a more significant participant in global trade and financial flows. Currently, China relies largely on administrative controls to manage its economy – controls that are cumbersome and increasingly ineffective. An independent monetary policy will allow China to more easily and effectively pursue price stability, stabilize growth, and respond to economic shocks. China has a history of significant swings in credit-fueled investment and inflationary pressures and these have often ended in "hard landings." Such swings are disruptive to the Chinese economy and may prove more disruptive in the future – not only to China but also to the global economy.

A more flexible system will allow for a more efficient allocation of resources and higher productivity. The current system is fueling over-investment and excessive reliance on export-led growth while under-emphasizing domestic consumption. Moreover, much of the investment and capital flows into these favored sectors and projects may not prove profitable under market-determined prices, which could lead to another investment hard landing, more non-performing loans and a weakened banking sector.

And a more flexible system would also quell speculative capital inflows that are costly to China's government and increasingly likely to prove disruptive. China's ability to sterilize capital inflows is increasingly limited and harmful to its banking sector.

Finally, recent history has taught us that it's better to move from a fixed to a flexible currency system during from a position of strength, and not when economic weakness compels reform."

This statement promises economic stability for China if it allows the exchange rate to be more flexible, but almost no one actually believes that.

In fact, analysts at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley called the statement "political" and "counterproductive."

Nor will yuan flexibility help the American economy at all. China will not adjust the exchange rate by more then 3-4%, and since Chinese textile products are 40% cheaper than similar American products, nothing much will change. And even if China stopped exporting textiles altogether, the slack will be picked up by other third world countries with similarly low prices. Finally, America couldn't pick up the slack itself anyway, since some two-thirds of its textile factories have been bulldozed or converted to other purposes. So the Treasury statement will have no effect whatsoever.

There is a precedent for this kind of thing. After the stock market crash of 1929, the public demanded that American jobs be protected from foreigners, and so Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930 to prevent imports of foreign products, even though economists were overwhelmingly opposed to it. The act did enormous damage, especially to Japan, whose silk industry was completely shut down, resulting in enormous suffering. Japan considered the Smoot-Hawley law to be an act of war, and it was one of the sequence of events leading to Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The Treasury statement is just a statement and not a law, so it probably won't do as much damage as the Smoot-Hawley act did. But it's just as irrational.

In fact, nothing about what happened on Tuesday makes sense. IN a world where standard price/earnings ratios tell us that stocks are overpriced by 100%, investors are no longer making rational decisions; instead they're taking increasing risks in order to make some gains, and they're hoping that irrelevant signals like the Treasury Dept. statement will make a difference.

My original prediction, made in 2002, based on generational analysis and standard growth analysis, was that we would have a major stock market crash (DOW down to 3000-4000 range, S&P 500 index down to 400) by 2006 or 2007. This MUST happen sooner or later because stocks are so far overpriced. The rapidly increasing volatility of the market indicates that that day is coming sooner rather than later. (18-May-05) Permanent Link
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Norway sells half its U.S. Treasury bond holdings

Foreign central banks were net sellers of US securities in March for the first time since August, 2003.

This sharp fall in foreign bond purchases is mostly the result of a mysterious decision by oil-rich Norway to dump half its holdings of US Treasury bonds on the market.

The slack was taken up by non-central bank purchasers: Carribean-based financial institutions dealing in hedge funds made purchases that offset Norway's central bank selling, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Hedge funds are financial instruments that spread the risk in purchasing corporate bonds. As we wrote about last week, one form of hedge funds so-called "collateralized-debt obligations," or CDOs, have fallen sharply in price, thanks to S&P's rating change of Ford and GM bonds to "junk status."

This was only one of several signs of a general weakening in the corporate bond market. This weakening has led financial institutions to favor U.S. Treasury bonds over corporate bonds. Thus, when Norway's central bank dumped its US Treasury bonds on the market, an opportunity was available to private financial firms to switch from corporate bonds to Treasury bonds, and that appears to be what's happening.

Norway's move might be an isolated incident, or it might be part of a larger trend. Foreign central banks, especially in Asia, have been supporting America's massive public debt by making equally massive purchases of Treasury bonds. If foreign central bankers become disenchanted with their huge holdings of Treasury bonds, then private hedge fund dealers might take up the slack, but this would make the global financial markets less stable.

None of this would really matter much if it weren't for the fact that, as I've discussed many, many times, we're in a stock market bubble with stocks overpriced by about 100%, according to standard price/earning ratio measures, and the American balance of payments deficit (current accounts deficit) continues to grow exponentially, as it has since 1945. It's only a matter of time before the bubble bursts, launching us into a new 1930s style Great Depression. (17-May-05) Permanent Link
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"Koran in toilet" rumor is uniting Muslims around the world

From Gaza to Indonesia, Muslims are shouting "Death to America."

Muslim protestors are calling on America to apologize for desecrating the Koran. Muslim leaders are demanding that the Guantanamo perpetrators be found and punished for tearing up a Koran and stuffing it down a toilet.

The problem is that the incident apparently never happened.

The rumors began with a story in last week's Newsweek magazine, which began, "Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash."

No one's getting upset about the dog leash part, but the unconfirmed toilet story is roiling the Muslim world, according to news stories:

There are several interesting and important things to be said about all this.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, we're headed for a "clash of civilizations" world war that will pit Western nations and allies against Muslim nations and allies. Last year, when I wrote about the six most dangerous regions of the world, to identify the regions that might trigger such a war. But the massive demonstrations over over a descration incident that isn't even true shows that Muslims around the world war identifying and uniting with one another, building up to that war. (15-May-05) Permanent Link
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Credit market derivatives fall sharply, sparking big stock market losses

A Wall Street Journal web site article appearing on Tuesday afternoon caused nervousness on Wall Street, leading to 1% losses in stock market indexes.

According to the article in today's paper, recent troubles at auto makers General Motors and Ford has caused a domino effect that's causing concern among investors.

The turmoil is occuring with so-called "collateralized-debt obligations," or CDOs.

Conceptually, these work as follows: Corporations incur debt by selling corporate bonds that pay interest -- unless the corporation goes bankrupt. You can purchase corporate bonds directly, but there are additional choices. Wall Street dealers will package together packages of bond debts from numerous corproations, and you can buy shares of those packages, allowing you to spread your risk over many corporations and many kinds of bonds. You can purchase high-risk CDOs, hoping to make a lot of money, or you can purchase safer low-risk CDOs that pay less.

While you may never have heard of, let alone owned, a CDO share, many large financial institutions are heavily invested in these CDOs.

Last week, S&P changed its rating on GM and Ford, giving their debt "junk bond" status. This caused the value of certain CDO holdings to fall sharply. The rumors are that Deutsche Bank is heavily invested in CDOs related to GM and Ford, resulting in substantial losses. The resulting investor nervousness has pushed down the values of all CDOs except those with the lowest risk, and has raised concerns about a domino effect causing big losses for many financial institutions holding CDOs. This resulted in the panic that caused the Dow to fall 103 points on Tuesday.

This is a fairly obscure situation that most people wouldn't even care about much, at least as long as the Jackson trial is going on.

But it's one more sign of extreme nervousness and volatility in the stock market. It's exactly this kind of volatility that precedes a stock market crash, although the appearance of such volatility doesn't mean that a crash must happen right away.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, a stock market crash to the Dow 3000-4000 range is 100% certain, but whether it will happen next week, next month, next year, or a year or two later cannot be predicted. But the increasing volatility indicates that it's more likely to occur sooner rather than later. (11-May-05) Permanent Link
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World becoming panicky over North Korean nuclear test threat

UN nuclear chief calls it "disastrous"; US lawmaker calls it a "cataclysmic" event.

North Korea's threat to test a nuclear weapon next month seems to be causing a level of panic and nervousness around the world.

Arthur Brown, who retired in December as chief of the East Asia division of the CIA's clandestine service, has painted the following scenario:

According to the Washington Post article by David Ignatius, Brown believes that North Korean President Kim Jong-il is being completely rational, and is not the "reckless madman" and some analysts and pundits claim. He's playing the "nuclear card" in order to guarantee his regime's survival and, in Brown's view, "the chance that Kim Jong Il will negotiate away his nuclear option is close to zero."

I agree completely. There's never been any doubt in my mind that Kim knows exactly what he's doing. He's mobilizing for war, and he's playing games with the non-nuclear proliferation talks to gain time.

But I've noticed something different these last few days. I've written numerous articles about the North Korea nuclear threat on this web site during the last two years, always pointing out the same thing - that Kim is preparing for a preemptive attack on South Korea to reunite Korea under his control.

But this time, I can feel a rising sense of panic going on in the world.

David Brown's scenario is a sign of this. It's very unusual to read or hear such dire warnings in standard news stories in newspapers and television. But not only is this scenario making the rounds, but many people are taking it seriously.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said about the scenario when asked, "I'm not sure it is very far-fetched... I think that test could open a Pandora's box, frankly. I do not know what will happen afterwards."

ElBaradei believes that North Korea already has five or six nuclear weapons, and that "It would have disastrous political repercussions. I am not sure how much environmental impact it could have, in terms of radiological fallout. So, I do hope that the North Koreans would absolutely reconsider such a reckless, reckless step."

He's not the only one to use such alarming language. On Sunday, Republican Senator Richard Lugar said he is concerned about reports North Korea appears to be preparing for some kind of nuclear test, adding, "This would be cataclysmic. This really is over the top."

This kind of nervousness and alarming language is a surprise to me.

Some people may chuckle and talk about "the pot calling the kettle black," referring to the alarming language that I often use on this web site. But there are big differences. My analyses, based on the Generational Dynamics Forecasting Methodology which is now in its third successful year on this web site, may be alarming, but I'm just a little guy that no one listens to.

Arthur Brown, Mohamed ElBaradei and Richard Lugar are "very important people" that most people actually listen to, and when they start using alarming language it's a big deal.

It reminds me of the nervousness in the stock market. As we've described, the stock market has been extremely volatile, reflecting a great deal of nervousness on the part of investors.

Stock market volatility is something that we can measure, and we know from history that stock market crashes are preceded by high volatility.

But nervousness of North Korean nuclear tests is not so easy to measure objectively. But speaking subjectively, something feels very different. At the very least, if people are getting nervous and panicky, it means that it's easy to make miscalculations that could lead to war.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, a war is coming with 100% certainty. That war might being next week, next month or next year, but it's coming, and probably sooner rather than later.

Incidentally, I'd like to apologize to my regular readers for missing a few days. I'm working day and night on another project, and it should be completed later this week, after which I'll go back to contributing more frequently. (10-May-05) Permanent Link
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Stock market swings wildly following a quirky Fed error

The Fed raised interest rates a quarter point yesterday, triggering an investor buy/sell frenzy as the overnight funds rate increased to 3.0%. Early last year, the rate was 1.0%.

Dow ups and downs on May 3, 2005 <font size=-2>(Source: WSJ)</font>
Dow ups and downs on May 3, 2005 (Source: WSJ)

The increase, announced at 2:15 pm, was expected, but it triggered first a 10 point increase and then a 40 point fall, all within a couple of minutes, as investors noticed that the wording of the Fed statement appeared to indicate that the Fed was getting increasingly concerned about inflation.

Then investors reversed themselves, and pushed the Dow up 90 points, and then back down 100 points, where it appeared to settle for the rest of the day.

But then at 3:50 pm, just 10 minutes before the end of the trading day, the Fed announced an error: They had accidentally omitted the line "longer-term inflation expectations remain well contained" from their statement.

In the those last ten minutes, the Dow jumped up 40 points, to end the day relatively unchanged.

Stock market volatility in April, 2005 <font size=-2>(Source: WSJ)</font>
Stock market volatility in April, 2005 (Source: WSJ)

Today's wild ride continues an extreme level of volatility that occurred throughout April. As the adjoining graph shows, the Dow had a 100 point change (up or down) seven times in April, an extremely rare event.

As I explained last week and the week before, this kind of volatility occurs before a major stock market correction or a major crash, although that doesn't mean that a stock market crash must occur in the next few weeks.

The reason is that the volatility means that individual investors are not making decisions based on individual stocks, which they do in normal times; instead, they're nervously making buy/sell decisions based on their "feeling" about where the entire stock market in going. With investors moving in unison, that means that the entire market is subject to volatility that only a single stock would have in normal times, and it means that a scare can cause a panic and a stock market crash.

VIX volatility index, 1997 to present <font size=-2>(Source: Barrons)</font>
VIX volatility index, 1997 to present (Source: Barrons)

The VIX is the "Volatility Index," computed by the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE).

The adjoining graph shows that the VIX is the highest it's been in years, and that previous highs have always accompanied financial crises.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, we're headed into a major 1930s style Great Depression, and in 2002 I predicted the Dow would crash to the 3000-4000 range by the 2007 time frame. Today, with the American economy continually deteriorating, I have no reason to revise that forecast. The current volatility might mean that the slide will begin in the next few weeks; or it could signal only a minor correction for now, leaving the major correction for a later date. (04-May-05) Permanent Link
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UK election follows same pattern as American and Australian elections

The Iraq issue is causing bitter divisiveness, but not enough to affect Blair's lead.

All the major players of the 2004 American Presidential election are present in UK election scheduled for Thursday, May 5:

Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat party <font size=-2>(Source: BBC)</font>
Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat party (Source: BBC)

Michael Howard, Conservative Party <font size=-2>(Source: BBC)</font>
Michael Howard, Conservative Party (Source: BBC)

Tony Blair, Labour Party <font size=-2>(Source: BBC)</font>
Tony Blair, Labour Party (Source: BBC)

There are a couple of important differences between the UK and American elections.

First, the Brits vote for a party, and the party chooses a leader. Thus, a Brit who wanted the Labour Party to win in the House of Commons would have to, in effect, vote for Tony Blair. In America, of course, someone could have voted for John Kerry for President, and still vote for any party for Congress.

Second, in America Bush was the conservative candidate, and Kerry was the liberal candidate, so the political philosophies of the respective candidates are opposed. So, in the War against Terror, the liberal Tony Blair is allied with the conservative George Bush.

This is another reversal - in World War II, the conservative Winston Churchill was allied with the liberal Franklin Roosevelt.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this reversal isn't surprising. Last year, we explained that the Republicans were historically favored in the 2004 election, because favored parties tend to alternate from crisis period to crisis period, and the Democrats were favored by the last crisis period, in World War II. For the same reason, the Labour Party is historically favored in this election, since the Conservatives were favored during the World War II crisis period.

A similar kind of transition has occurred in Australia, where Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard won a reelection battle decisively last October, after a bitter election fought over Howard's support of the Iraqi war. The Liberal Party was formed at the end of World War II from dissidents of the Labor Party, which had been the winning party during that war. Thus, the Liberal Party was historically favored during this crisis period for the same reasons we've been discussing.

George Bush, Britain's Tony Blair, and Australia's John Howard were the three major leaders in the world in launching the Iraq war in 2003. Unless there's a big surprise in the UK, all three will have won their respective elections, after bitter election battles in all three countries.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, this is the expected result. America, Britain and Australian are all in a "generational crisis" period. During such a period, a nation's citizens tend to reject bitter political battles and unite around a leader that they trust, rather than risk someone new.

The kind of political reversal we're seeing in all three countries is not a historical certainty, of course, but the fact that it's happening in all three countries is an interesting confirmation of one of the major principles of Generational Dynamics: That during a generation crisis periods, all political parties undergo massive transformations and a new majority political consensus emerges, with one party representing that consensus; but when the next generational crisis period comes around, the old consensus collapses, to the disadvantage of the party that represented that consensus, and a new consensus, represented by a different political party, takes hold.

This transformation is extremely brutal and divisive, however, and the political divisiveness we've seen so far is almost nothing compared to what we're going to see in the next few years. (02-May-05) Permanent Link
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