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My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there."—Charles E Kettering Toward 16 By Harvey H. Segal Man has an insatiable curiosity about the shape of the future and it is hardly likely to be concealed as the curtain rises on the decade of the 1970s. Our early ancestors were principally concerned with physical survival in the immediate future, imploring their gods for protection from plague and pillage, droughts and floods, fires and frosts. Modern man's interest in prognostication is directed largely toward the unknowns in the economy. Forecasts of the economic future are based upon an impressive body of historical knowledge as well as techniques for linking the past with the present and, hopefully, with the future. But sophistication is no insurance against costly failure in the treacherous game of forecasting. Ten years ago, it will be remembered, there was much brave talk about the "Swinging Sixties" and the unlimited economic horizons of a decade of rapid growth that lay ahead. Yet half the decade was to pass before the country was lifted out of economic stagnation, from the slough of slow growth and an unacceptably high level of unemployment. The euphoria of that decade therefore stands as a warning against glib optimism in the 1970s. Safety in forecasting can be purchased, but only at the price of retreating to the trite or innocuous, such as the statement that the only thing certain in the uncertain future is the persistence of change. But there is a middle ground approach that offers valuable insights into the future by ignoring the short-term reverses and twists of business fortunes—the saw-toothed fluctuations of the wall chart curves. It involves the extension of well established trends, the long-term tendencies that are not likely to be quickly reversed and which exert a powerful influence in shaping the course of the economy. What is required of us today, if we want to understand and master our future, is a blend of capabilities. We need to combine the realistic, hard-headed approach of the experienced and skeptical accountant with the appreciation of the new and significant among many emerging social trends— which is more in the domain of the far-sighted social scientist. In other words, we must use both the telescope and the microscope in order to discern the big picture as well as the details of our future. Population growth, a fundamental of any excursion into the future, is influenced by persistent forces—economic, social and technological—that change gradually and in a reasonably predictable fashion. New breakthroughs in medical knowledge and techniques, as well as the more effective application of what is already known, will in all likelihood accelerate the decline in infant mortality and increase the longevity of the adult population. Affluence should help sustain a high birth rate, but one that is lower than in the 1940s and 1950s. Thus, barring some misfortunes of catastrophic dimension, such as the outbreak of a thermonuclear war, there will be net increases in the population of the United States during every year of the 1970s. Forecasting that growth —and with it the composition of the population by age groups, color and other characteristics—hinges largely on predicting the fertility and birth rates. Other trends are far less stable over time, growth of income and of government expenditures being examples of trajectories that are subject to the fickle deflections of fleeting, short-term influences. The more regular, firmly estab- Harvey H. Segal is Chairman of the Economics Department of the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He has been an economics specialist on the editorial staffs of The New York Times and the Washington Post.
Toward the challenges of 1980
Segal, Harvey H.
Accounting as a profession
Economic forecasting -- United States
H&S Reports, Vol. 07, (1970 winter), p. 16-19
|Source||Originally published by: Haskins & Sells|
|Rights||Copyright and permission to republish held by: Deloitte|
|Format||PDF page image with corrected OCR scanned at 400 dpi|
|Collection||Deloitte Digital Collection|
|Digital Publisher||University of Mississippi Library. Accounting Collection|