Forecaster peers into his data and sees tomorrow Cetron here to tell us what 2000 will bring

May 05, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

In 1980, Marvin Cetron figured out that Iraq would someday invade Kuwait.

After the fall of the shah of Iran, which he had predicted four years before, Dr. Cetron concluded that Iran and Iraq would go to war and a stalemate would result, causing Iraq to seek a southern port.

As Dr. Cetron explains it, his predictions of events such as last year's Persian Gulf war do not come from crystal ball gazing, but from number and theory crunching.

"I'm not a futurist," he said. "I'm a forecaster. Futurists are people who want the world to be a better place and envision it that way. As forecasters, we analyze data to understand what is going to happen."

Dr. Cetron, who worked in forecasting for the Navy for 20 years and has headed his own firm for the last 20, will present his vision of the year 2000 today at noon at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

Founder and president of the Northern Virginia firm, Forecasting International, Dr. Cetron works on contract with a variety of corporate and government clients. He claims a 95 percent accuracy rate.

Dr. Cetron said that his forecasts come from computer-driven analysis of some 3,500 variables based on three factors -- if the potential outcomes are technically, economically and socially feasible.

He sees the United States emerging from its recession because, among other things, the orders for cardboard cartons are up.

"All the big items -- washers, dryers, refrigerators -- are packed in these cartons," he said. "Everything people sell, they've got to get the carton first. It's an excellent leading indicator."

He said that the recession is ending in most parts of the country. But that fact is not being reported because the last part of the country to emerge is the Northeast, where most of the media giants are based, he said.

"It's the last to come out because of unions," he said of the Northeast. "Unions are dead, by the way. Twenty-two percent of the work force was union in 1980. By 2000, it will be less than 10 percent."

The 61-year-old Dr. Cetron speaks of the future with a rat-tat-tat voice much like a baseball fan reading off last night's box scores.

"Cities are disappearing," he said. "Think about it. People used to go to the cities because that's where you found the good roads and other facilities. Everything else was dirt paths. That's not true anymore.

"It used to be that's where the good educational systems were; you had one-room schoolhouses out in the rural areas. That's not true anymore. And cities were safe, that's where you had good lighting, police and fire protection. That's not true anymore.

"There's no reason for cities, especially because in the new service-oriented economy, by 2000, over 44 percent of all jobs will be involved with information -- creating it, analyzing it, storing it. And half of those people will be able to work at home."

He maintains that the decline of New York will cause the financial markets to relocate to the Washington, D.C., area. Internationally, Japan will decline as an economic power as China, absorbing Hong Kong and Taiwan, rises to the economic lead in Asia. The European Community will become an economic colossus, causing a union between the United States and Canada.

"By 1996, Quebec will separate from the rest of Canada," he said. "We will take one Canadian province as a state by 2004 to 2006, another by 2006 to 2008, and the rest as a third state by 2010. But the 51st state will be Puerto Rico."

But sometimes international events surprise even the forecaster and his associates.

"We missed England going to war over the Falklands," he said. "I didn't know they would turn the Queen Elizabeth into a troop ship and that Margaret Thatcher's re-election would get involved in it.

"I thought Israel would give land for peace before now. I think they'll still do it, but they would have done it sooner if [Yitzhak] Rabin's wife hadn't forgotten to close an overseas bank account," he said of the scandal that brought down Israel's Labor government and propelled the conservative Likud bloc into power.

University of Baltimore officials ask that those attending Dr. Cetron's free lecture in Westminster Hall arrive early to avoid traffic created by the Orioles' 12:15 p.m. game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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