January 2003 - Forecast for the Year
Themes and Trends for 2003
The year 2003 continues to find us struggling to understand the many changes that have affected us in recent years. As a country, we are deeply divided about the prospect of war. Those who believe we should attack Iraq or other countries are very offended by those who feel we should allow diplomacy and peace to have a chance. This division will not be resolved in this coming year; we expect it to be a difficult chasm to bridge quickly or easily.
We strongly believe that war is unnecessary. Certainly unprovoked war is unthinkable for the United States, given the basis of our founding principles. In the history of our world, we have already learned a great deal about war and its horrors. To promote the idea of attacking another country because they don't act as we think they should is appalling to us. We believe it is not appropriate when there are other many means for resolving conflicts that are much less destructive. Initiating war can only come back to us in very negative ways. Other countries (example, North Korea), now feel they must prepare to defend themselves against US aggression, further escalating an already tense world.
Thomas Jefferson said the same thing in fewer words,
Martin Luther King Jr. said it very eloquently,
As we head into a new year, many people are revisiting their values and re-evaluating what is important to them. This will continue all year as we debate the prospect of war, look at how our life might be affected, make choices about how to live our life and create our own reality. Each person, business and organization must find their own way through the varying opinions to decide what is important.
Freedom of speech while respective the rights of others is a dearly held principle of the US and must continue to be supported if we are to regain the respect of the rest of the world.
Business scandals, religious scandals, political and economic challenges put pressure on all of us to be clear about what we want and what we believe is important to us. We believe this re-evaluation and debate is a very healthy thing, albeit painful. We must be able to hear others' views as well as speaking our own.
The damage done to the credibility of large institutions and the general public's loss of faith in them is clear from the massive business scandals we have seen in recent years. In 2002, we saw how the bankruptcy of WorldCom affected the entire telecomm industry with ripple effects throughout the entire US economy. Arthur Andersen one of the largest and most respected US accounting firms was charged with destroying Enron documents, resulting in a loss of confidence so severe that Andersen collapsed. Merrill Lynch was fined for promoting losing stocks. Adelphia Communications' owners were very publicly sent to jail in handcuffs. As a result of the scandals, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) now requires company officers of public companies to personally attest to the accuracy of financial results they publish. We expect to see more interest in auditing and verification services, although perhaps the firms selected to do the work may no longer automatically be one of the "Big 4" accounting firms (Deloitte & Touche, KPMG Peat Marwick, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young).
"While WorldCom edged Enron's 2001 bankruptcy as the largest in U.S. history, four other 2002 bankruptcies made the list of the Top 10 all-time largest: Conseco ($61.4 billion), Global Crossing ($25.5 billion), Adelphia ($24.4 billion), and United Airlines' parent UAL ($22.8 billion)," according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
In Boston and other cities, the Catholic Church was deluged with lawsuits charging priests with abusing children and covering up the problem for decades at least. These charges have seriously challenged one of our oldest and most respected institutions, requiring them to deal with unpleasant realities long hidden. The public will no longer blindly ignore institutional wrong-doing and cover-up.
Even governments are feeling the pinch of forced change as budgets go negative. California is facing a $34 billion deficit; Washington state is facing a $2 billing deficit. 37 states were forced to revised their budgets downward due to declining revenues in 2002. This will force governments to do what private industry has always had to do: find more effective, efficient ways to reassure their clients/customers their taxpayers, voters and rate-payers. Voters are expressing their displeasure in government agencies by voting down needed much-needed infrastructure taxes and bonds. Government agencies will need to learn to perform efficiently, measure their performance and become accountable to their public in order to build the trust that they used to have without question.
In 2003, many people will find that "cleaning house" offers a chance to throw out what is no longer of use to us. This applies to our physical home, our business or working environment and the larger world realm. As we go through our "old stuff," we can make a conscious choice about what is important to us and create new plans for how we want to proceed in the future. As we let go of the clutter in our lives, we feel a refreshing sense of hope and optimism for the future. Eventually, this will be reflected in the larger world reality.
For many people, the recognition that we are not alone will be clearer this year. Many people will find their spirituality becoming more important as an integrated part of their life, not just when they attend formal religious services. This expression shows clearly in every day news about spirituality and the growing interest in spirituality in the workplace. As part of this recognition, more people will realize that when we are all connected and affected by each other. The more healthy, strong, prosperous, honest and positive we are individually, the more those attributes are enhanced for everyone. If we are unhealthy, weak, dishonest and fearful individually, the more those attributes will be true for everyone. Ernest Holmes reminds us of this with his classic Change your thinking, change your life philosophy. We do not advocate any particular religion and believe each person must find their own path to a truth that works for them.
In 2003, we may find deeper meaning and greater joy in our family, our community and our inter-personal relationships than in our pursuit of money, fame or fortune. We may find we want a different working experience that supports who we are rather than just a paycheck from a job that we don't like. We may find that we want to be in a different type of business or we may choose to pursue a different form of education. Many people will find they want to make different choices about how they spend their waking hours.
We expect the entertainment industry to benefit from positive, upbeat movies, shows and events to help us cope with the many challenges facing us. We expect that musicals, comedy and fantasy of all kinds will continue to do well in 2003. Movies such as Harry Potter, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings help us see that magic is possible, restoring our faith for a short while at least. My Big Fat Greek Wedding reminds of how much fun we can have living an ordinary life. Solaris and Catch Me If You Can remind us of the power of our mind to create our reality. Gangs of New York starkly reminds us how far we have come and how far we have yet to go as a society toward peace-making. We expect to see nostalgia show up in events and products as people search for memories of better times to help them cope with the year's challenges.
The role of the media and ethics will continue to be questioned in 2003. When does telling a story objectively cross over into creating fantasy or unconsciously promoting your own interests (or your company's interests)? Can these two markets ethically co-exist within one company? When does the profit motive overcome the pride of objective journalism? These questions and more will continue to be asked and debated, perhaps endlessly.
The airline industry continues to adjust to the damage done by the September 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center towers. Some people no longer feel it is safe to fly, continuing to affect the ability of all airlines to be profitable. All airport screeners are now employed by the federal government, a massive hiring effort of more 50,000 people that required the mobilization of personnel recruiters like no other in US history. New security measures at airports have been instituted and more will come in 2003 all designed to protect the public and the airlines from terrorists. US Airways was the first airline to file in bankruptcy in 2002. United Airlines struggles to stay in business after declaring bankruptcy in December. The horrendously long lines at most airport checkpoints have been greatly reduced during 2002, helping to convince flyers that they can safely fly again and the travel industry is slowly growing again.
We expect the retail industry to continue to struggle in 2003. Consumers are realizing that the economic recovery that has been promised for the past 2 years is not coming quickly. Continued drops in the stock market value of individual retirement funds and investment portfolios combined with lack of wage increases will further reinforce cautious, cost-conscious buyers. Consumer confidence carried us a long way through a difficult economy. With unemployment rising around the world and constant talk of war, we expect consumers to be cautious and prudent in 2003, searching for bargains and good value at reasonable prices.
The technology sector a bright spot for many years has not rebounded. We don't see any major improvements in 2003 either. We expect to see growth in products and services related to security, privacy and working more efficiently. Economic benefits will come from incremental efficiencies and productivity improvements based on solid improvements and healthy teamwork, not "flash" and "dazzle." Corporate decision-makers are looking much more closely and cautiously at technology investments than they did a few years ago. Even Microsoft the darling of the stock market a few short years ago is facing pressure to pay dividends from its $40 billion+ cash hoard, according to the Associated Press.
We expect hype of new technology gadgets to continue in 2003. Savvy buyers will know what they want, then demand good products, reasonable prices and good customer service. Technology companies who heed their customers' needs rather than constantly pushing shoddy products will do well if they stick to the basics.
The Internet continues to grow exponentially as more and more people and countries become connected. The growing availably and of high-speed access through cable and DSL have made the Internet experience much more powerful and less time-consuming. As higher speeds become available, vendors are pushing more services to the desktop, creating clutter and protests about overloading websites with advertising. Personal firewalls are now required for more people especially cable and DSL users improving the market for products such as ZoneAlarm. Proliferation of serious virus attacks by e-mail has been lessened due to more active use of virus blocking programs, such as PC-cillin. Many of the popular virus programs now come with integrated firewall protection, which keeps your computer from being accessed by unwanted intruders. Other increasingly popular programs are advertising blockers such as AdSubtract to speed up your computer and block annoying ads and pop-up windows. [Note: we use the software products mentioned and do not receive any benefit from naming them.]
One major problem limiting the Internet's potential is the exponential growth of spam, especially pornographic and obscene messages that flood even light users. There is no easy answer to solving this widespread problem. The state of Washington has successfully sued one company who violated state laws against spamming residents. Other states have laws against sending unsolicited mail. However, they are largely un-enforced due difficulties in locating the spammers. Even the European Union came out with a tough policy on spam requiring "opt-in" provisions. Even with current penalties available, the average person does not have the ability to file a lawsuit themselves if if they knew who to sue. Large Internet service providers, such as Earthlink and AOL, offer the ability to screen out spam providing some relief. New software spam-related products now available that can be used by anyone, such as MailWasher, is becoming a growth niche in the otherwise lackluster software industry.
Scandals in the energy industry have eroded investor confidence in what used to be a solid growth industry. Lawsuits are still being filed over the massive overcharging of customers in California and the Northwest by Enron and others. Even Vice President Cheney has been drawn into question for his role in consulting with oil and gas executives in private in developing his energy policy.
The education field continues to change at a glacial pace. We see little change from our forecast last year. As in any economic slowdown, education draws in more people than good economic times. We hope that education will begin to recognize the individual needs of students rather than using "one size fits all" methods. The fast-paced changes in technology are helping education more forward and causing the industry to make changes just to stay current, aggravating already tight budgets.
Health care will continue to showcase new products and methods although the industry continues to struggle with price increases and growing numbers of people who cannot afford adequate health care. The recent announcement of human cloning will again raise the question of ethics and appropriate behavior. More and more people are realizing the connection between attitude and their health. We expect this trend to continue as people take more responsibility for their own health care, questioning their doctors, seeking alternative, holistic methods and learning more themselves about how to prevent illness.
Privacy and individual rights will continue to be a subject of great interest by the public, forcing governments to try to deal growing identify theft and misuse of personal, private information. The European community has been much farther ahead of the US in this regard. In 2003, we expect some serious consideration in the US for adopting the European guidelines for data privacy and protection, over the strident protests of US companies who have greatly abused information available to them.
All in all, 2003 will probably be a challenging and exciting year with many opportunities for those who choose to see them. It is wise to remember that even in "hard times," much personal and business growth occurs. It is also important to remember that we have choices in how we view any situation. We can choose to see our glass as half full or half empty. We can choose to see our life as blessed or stressed.
However you view it, we wish you good health, good friends, good times and prosperity in 2003.
This forecast represents our views and opinions. Please, don't just take our word (or anyone else's) for what will or will not happen. Use whatever methods work for you in planning for the future. Wise people will use all the forecasts they can find, then see what feels right for them rather than letting any one dictate their activities.
No guarantees about the future are implied or given - use our views as you would anyone's opinions.
Last year's forecast: January, 2002
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