When forecasting trends, sometimes looking backward is the best way to look ahead. TIME's James O. Jackson examines the perils of prediction
Attempting to foretell the future is always a risky business. Like generals who prepare for the next war by planning for the last one, prognosticators usually look ahead on the basis of what has already happened. In the Pentagon last year, military planners immersed themselves in missile-defense systems to thwart a cold-war-era nuclear attack but failed to prepare for the civilian airliners that were transformed into guided missiles on Sept. 11. Brokers in the World Trade Center towers speculating on oil, gold and pork-belly prices could not have known that the future of the markets was flying straight at them out of a bright late-summer morning. Yet we are giving prognostication another try with this Forecast 2002 Special Issue.
Close readers of TIME will remember our Forecast 2001 issue, in which we made educated guesses about the major events and trends for the year. The political context then was a confused U.S. presidential election; the economic context was the collapse of tech stocks. We worried about weak leadership from a minority President, and we wondered if the technology collapse would plunge the world into full-blown recession. We were right about the danger of recession, but wrong about the causes and solutions. It was Osama bin Laden, not George W. Bush, who tipped the balance toward economic slowdown.
Predicting what will happen this year is largely a matter of achieving a delicate balance between the obvious and the unexpected. Nobody, of course, could have foreseen the events of Sept. 11; the ruthlessness of the terrorists who swept away the pride of New York's skyline was as beyond prediction as it was beyond imagination. Yet it is possible to map out some of the aftershocks of that horrific event.
In many ways the march of history will be little changed by what is being called the "first war of the 21st century." As huge and devastating as it was, the attack on Sept. 11 was merely the continuation on a larger scale of what terrorists have been doing to the U.S. and its allies for years. Israelis suffer smaller-scale bombings on a nearly weekly basis, and Americans have faced similar attacks on their embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi and on a navy vessel in the port of Aden.
We're likely to see more terror attacks this year, possibly even on the scale of Sept. 11. Enough surviving al-Qaeda operatives including archterrorist Osama bin Laden himself remain at large for us to know that there is something being planned, somewhere. And even if it is not an al-Qaeda strike, the potential for violence is high in places like Kashmir, where India and Pakistan hover on the brink of war, and the Philippines, where the U.S. is assisting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her effort to eliminate the threat from the Abu Sayaaf terrorist organization.
But another certainty for 2002 is the response by those who suffer such attacks. We can expect America's "war on terrorism" to continue in various forms and locations ranging from Afghanistan and the Philippines to, perhaps, Iraq or Somalia, with attendant peril for soldiers and civilians alike. In 2002 concern over "homeland security" will mean more long lines at airport checkpoints and lengthy backups at border posts.
The unexpected in politics will remain a feature of 2002. The U.S. President's popularity rating is above 90%, the highest in the history of the republic. In Europe, many incumbents may not be so lucky. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who faces an election in September, has seen his chances dented by the continuing economic slump. In France, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac will likely face off for the presidency in a contest that begins in April but Jospin has been hit by France's failing economy and Chirac by corruption allegations. Asia has a few weak leaders of its own, with Indonesia and Malaysia facing possible turmoil.
In business and economics, technology stocks will remain in the dumps, though investors in the U.S. will continue to pin their hopes on a "V-shaped" recovery. But watch out for Japan; if the economic crisis gets worse there and the yen continues to devalue, Japanese corporations will snap up market share, which could turn the American V into more of a U shape. Not all the gloom can be attributed to last year's attacks, though. Everything from the value of the newly launched euro to the collapse of the Argentine economy has antecedents that far predate Sept. 11.
The terrors of 2001 have made the world more risk-averse in other ways as well. Fear of flying brought a drop in air travel, prompting multibillion-dollar bailouts and causing a slump in tourism. This year more struggling airlines are likely to go out of business. The drop in the Dow is another symptom of risk avoidance; we feel safer putting our money under the mattress than putting it in the stock market. Even the entertainment industry is taking no chances, which means more of the same on stage and screen: sequels to sequels to sequels, including the next installment of Harry Potter, the second part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and more remakes of old cinematic reliables.
But not all the changes are dreary. There will be unexpected positive developments this year too. Call it the year of unintended consequences. Recall how many of the most pessimistic expectations of a post-Sept. 11 future proved unfounded. We spoke of the end of freedom, the death of irony, the shattering of American confidence at the cataclysmic end of the American Century. Yet, barely five months later, freedom rings in one of the most unlikely places: the streets of Kabul. Reports of the death of irony were greatly exaggerated. Once the shock subsided we regained our sense of humor, our awareness of the essential optimism of the human condition. From tears, the U.S. late-night show hosts soon segued into bin Laden jokes: "This guy Osama bin Laden, he has $300 million, 26 kids, five different wives. And what does he hate? The excessive American lifestyle."
Far from losing confidence and withdrawing into defensive isolation, Americans declared their determination to defeat the forces of terror and intimidation. A lame-duck mayor of New York galvanized his stunned city and inspired the world with his example. A minority President dismissed by much of the world as unfit for the office replied to the attacks with measured military might, routing the Taliban regime and liberating Afghanistan from the grip of medieval oppression. Most of the free world and most of the Islamic world approved of the action. Fears of widespread civilian casualties and a massive Muslim backlash failed to materialize.
And for all our fear of flying, the world may have seen its last airplane hijacking for a while another unintended and unexpected consequence of Sept. 11. Once an essential tool of terrorists, hijackings will be next to impossible as a result of improved security and the general public's vigilance. The heroism of passengers like Todd Beamer on United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania means that would-be hijackers will be thwarted by the fury of fellow travelers. People like Beamer have helped start a new trend: ordinary people as the new celebrities.
Another scourge as deadly as terrorism the trade in illicit drugs suffered a setback as a result of the attacks and the consequent war in Afghanistan. The bombing severely disrupted a main source of the world's supply of heroin, while heightened border security is leaving hundreds of tons of illicit drugs lying undeliverable in smugglers' hiding places from Tijuana to Tehran. Already, producers in Peru are switching from coca to opium poppies to fill the gap but 2002 will see fewer lives ruined by heroin addiction, largely thanks to Osama bin Laden.
So let's look to the future in 2002. Will bin Laden be captured? Killed? Will Pakistan and India go to war or to the peace table? Will it be recession or recovery? Will Lord of the Rings gross more than Star Wars? Who knows? We don't. But we are willing to hazard some guesses. And here they are...