December 02, 2010

A summary of Dr. Bruce Cordell's Maslow Window Model for readers of Next Big Future by Joseph Friedlander

Hi, This is Joseph Friedlander on a guest post for Next Big Future.

Here we discuss long wave theory (56 year cycles involving booms, busts, wars, exuberance expeditions and scientific and engineering adventurism). I have spent a few days on and off looking at the site and wanted to give a digest for Next Big Future readers-- but also, to give an idea on a slight modification to the theory.

What is long wave theory?
Often called Kondratieff cycles, they are lifetime length sinusoidal waves charted against hundred year calendars. IF you believe in them you can see many correlations that otherwise are remarkable but unexplained—others dismiss them entirely.

Dr. Bruce Cordell (more on him below) has given a series of predictions concerning a potential space activity boom from 2015-2025. A 56 year energy source displacement cycle (also more on that below) may set the stage for thorium power or space solar power soon...

Dr. Cordell briefly comments on this 56 year cycle here 21st Century waves is often a participating website in the Carnival of Space.

Wikipedia on long waves---

Kondratiev waves (also called supercycles, great surges, long waves, K-waves or the long economic cycle) ...Unlike the short-term business cycle, the long wave of this theory is not accepted by current orthodox economics.

The historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote of the theory: "That good predictions have proved possible on the basis of Kondratiev Long Waves—this is not very common in economics—has convinced many historians and even some economists that there is something in them, even if we don't know what."

Why the cycles seem to work--- loss of generational knowledge and no one left alive who retains recognition of tell-tale behaviors--- (such as bank presidents saying they have to take risks to be in the game with the other players rather than saying they'd rather be there to pick on the carcasses of those who took foolish risks...a 150 year old bank president who had SEEN the 1920s boom would have recognized the signs))

Karl Denninger writes in Seeking Alpha

If you believe in "long wave" cycles - that is, Kondratieff cycles, we have precisely followed the several-hundred-year long pattern though its latest incarnation, with the 1982-2000ish period being "Autumn." Winter follows fall. These cycles seem to happen mostly because all (or essentially all) of the people who lived through the last cycle's horrors are dead.

The 56 year theory in essence by Dr. THEODORE MODIS in essence by Dr. THEODORE MODIS. Passionate reactions are not really provoked by predictions of world population growth, or by stock market growth. But to say that there will be regular and inevitable downs (e.g., the stock market crashing every 56 years, or war activities flaring up every 25 years), is sure to trigger emotional response, anxiety, and possibly anger. People do not like the idea that they are not getting better, and they do not want to be told that they do not have any choice. So they react emotionally attacking the very existence of cycles.….four stages that in principle can be associated with every natural-growth cycle. These stages carry the name and play the role of the four seasons.

Summer is the high-growth period around the mid-point of the growth

Winters are the low-growth periods one finds at the end and at the beginning of each process.

Spring is the period betwen winter and summer characterized by a progressively rising growth rate.

Fall is the time between summer and winter, when the rate of growth continuously declines.

This metaphor serves more than just as a mnemonic device or a poetic image. It can be a key to decision making. Our familiarity with mechanisms and behaviors associated with nature’s four seasons can shed light and guide us through decisions about business issues and other social endeavors. For example, the low creativity observed during a summer is only partially due to the heat in the weather. New undertakings are mainly disfavored because the living is easy and there is no reason to look for change... there is no infringement on one’s free will. The predeterminism ingrained in cycles only works at the aggregate level; individuals will always be free to go against the current.

I, Joseph Friedlander, have spent a few days on and off looking at the site and wanted to give a digest for Next Big Future readers-- but also, to give an idea on a slight modification to the theory.

The essential point: Dr. Cordell says that during the last 200 years, no financial panic has ever delayed or diminished any Great Explorations or MEPs associated with a Maslow Window. 2015-2025 is in play now, but the depression must end by 2015 for that to work.

I believe after reading some things that Karl Denninger has written, that the natural business cycle which would have led to a bust in 2000 (and briefly did) was interfered with by the Fed (among others) and that the recovery we should be experiencing now in preparation for the 2015 boom has in fact been squandered. This matters because if we miss the 2015 window, the next one is in 2071.

I discuss what we might do to avert this disaster below.

I recently corresponded with Dr. Bruce Cordell of to clarify a couple of his concepts.

The following list is edited for the novice reader encountering Dr. Cordell's memes for the first time--
List of trends Dr. Cordell expects for the coming decades—
(Freely cut and mixed from Dr. Cordell's with acknowledgment to Dr. Cordell:)

1) the financial Panic of 2008 and its great recession,
2) a great economic boom by 2015 and political realignments,
3) macroeconomic trends over the last 200 years,
4) expanding interest in extraterrestrials, new Earth-like planets, and UFOs
5) birth of the space tourist industry,
6) surging international plans for lunar science and development and interest in human Mars exploration, and many others.
7) we will rapidly transition from a multi-decade period of low self organized criticality (SOC) to an ebullient, fractal (high SOC) international environment (i.e., a Maslow Window) where almost anything is possible. About twice per century over the last 200+ years there are extraordinary pulses of great explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and macro-engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal) that resonate around the world. These “Maslow Windows” are times of extraordinary affluence-induced ebullience similar to “animal spirits” theorized to drive business cycles by British economist John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s. In response to ebullience, many in society ascend Maslow’s Hierarchy and, as their world view expands, find that great explorations and MEPs are not only intriguing, but seem momentarily irresistible. This captivating, but short-lived ebullience is triggered by major, twice-per-century economic booms over the last 200+ years that were first described by Kondratieff in the 1920s.
8) Previous Maslow Windows have featured quantum leaps in human exploration (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and technology and management (e.g., Apollo Moon program), and are usually terminated by a major war (e.g., World War I).

Note from Joseph: This is a major concern. A badly timed major war could abort an entire Maslow Window. You who are looking forward to geriatric advances in the 2015 Maslow window that may help you reach 'actuarial escape velocity'-- good luck waiting till the 2071 Maslow window if we miss this one!

9) has highlighted a class of panics that follow Maslow Windows; they appear 16 to 18 years after their 56 year energy cycle peaks (peaks are in 1801, 1857, 1913, 1969, 2025).

10) the classic ideas of Maslow, Keynes, and Kondratieff — synthesized into this Maslow Window model — can explain the transformative pulses of great explorations ...including our 1960s fascination with Apollo and its rapid demise in the early 1970s. This model also points to the 2015 Maslow Window as the most likely time (for a new surge of exploration and deployed scientific and engineering projects—JF)

11) An important lesson is that long-wave timeframes suggest when certain types of events are likely to occur, not when they must occur. Through knowledge of these long-term patterns, we are capable of avoiding disasters.

These ideas were intriguing but I wanted to understand more precisely what Dr. Cordell's worldviews held.

My correspondence with Dr. Cordell began,

Hi, Dr. Cordell, I contribute to at times -- Brian Wang’s website, as a guest poster. I want to prep a summary of your thoughts (with your permission quoting from a number of your pages) and I wanted to see if I understood the definition of “Maslow Window”.

I take it as kind of a launch window, a definite time slot that has a fuzzy edge either side during which you had better conduct your business if you want to ‘ride the wave of history’ rather than be swamped by it. (Just like a real ballistics launch window, the performance penalties become extreme once you leave the optimum middle of the window by very much…)

Dr. Cordell kindly replied:
The analogy with a launch window is useful. A spacecraft launch window involves the energy state of a rocket while a Maslow Window involves the psychological state of a population. And it is true that outside a launch window the performance penalties become prohibitive, while outside a Maslow Window the economic and political requirements preclude, or at least delay program success. The edge of a Maslow Window is fuzzier than for a launch window because it’s apparently governed by complexity theory.

Joseph: My understanding of why you call it a MASLOW Window is after the Maslow Heirarchy of Needs‘s_hierarchy_of_needs (which though was stated for the individual, would analogously apply to society as a whole) where for a brief period each long wave cycle (by your reckoning as understood by me) society feels secure enough, not grappling with problems of bare survival, to reach for higher aspirations ordinarily neglected during more pressing times. In Jerry Pournelle’s phrase, not just survival, but survival with style. During a Depression equivalent, space travel can be an imaginary escape, but during a Maslow Window, it is an exciting actual prospect.

Could you, I wonder, respond to this perception checking? Would you add subtract or change anything? Because the phrase Maslow Window is used a lot on this site, and understanding it is kind of key.

Joseph Friedlander

Dr. Cordell : As you suggest, I think of society’s Maslow state as a statistical ensemble of each individual’s position (or level) in the Maslow hierarchy. An individual’s ascent up the hierarchy usually results from a decrease in perceived physical, emotional, and/or financial stresses. In this “ebullient” state – usually triggered by a major economic boom -- many in society, due to expanded worldviews, momentarily find great explorations and major technology projects not only intriguing, but almost irresistible.

During a major economic boom (e.g., the 1960s Kennedy Boom) essentially everyone experiences “animal spirits” -- to use a popular Keynesian term -- but not everyone experiences “ebullience” (i.e., rapid ascent up the Maslow hierarchy). Some of those excited, but frustrated animal spirits-only folks may trigger negative events (e.g., wars). As the ratio of ebullient actors to animal spirits-only folks declines, the Maslow Window begins to “close” and political support for Apollo-style programs decays. For example, by 1966 the Vietnam war was already weakening societal ebullience during the Apollo Maslow Window (~1958 to 1969), which ultimately resulted in President Nixon’s cancellation of the last three Apollo missions to the Moon.

Maslow Windows were first recognized as unusual pulses of great explorations (e.g., Lewis & Clark), macro engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), and major wars (e.g. WW I) that cluster together exclusively every 55 to 60 years, over the last 200+ years. They appear to be fundamentally driven by major economic booms associated with a long (56-year) business cycle that was discovered and well-documented in 1989.

Another way to think of a Maslow Window is in the context of self organized criticality (SOC); it is a “critical state” of the complex international economic/geopolitical system. During the fractal Maslow Window, when system agents (e.g., corporations, agencies, countries, individuals) interact and evolve most intensely, the system is vulnerable to rapid, major transitions such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Apollo program. Outside the Maslow Window the system is less fractal (low SOC), counter-ebullient, and requires several decades to self organize again into a critical state. That's why nobody's been to the Moon in 40 years.

Dr. Cordell's reply left me thinking.

You see, there is an optimistic side and a less optimistic side to how Dr. Cordell's theory might apply in real life.

Some postulated (some may say arbitrary!) ground rules first-- humans have free will of a kind, and sufficiently historical foreknowledge can cause interference effects, just as a hypothetical time scanner that let us view possible futures could severely interfere with what WOULD have been. Therefore (for argument's sake) let us say that these are tendencies, not absolutes.

Some assumptions I wish to discuss:

• The opportunity for a major expansion into space is (inconveniently!) most probable during a long wave window from 2015 to 2025

• Speaking as a 1960 baby boomer who has waited his whole life for 'our turn' to come in space, and who will be too old in 2071 –(not to mention the danger of being trapped on a closed world with another 60 years of planet-killer technological development coming down the pike (EZ biowar kits, new classes of manseeker weapons, name your nanopoison, etc...)

• I really want the 2015 space rush to happen!

• But this is starting to feel like a reboot of Star Trek or Terminator, trying desperately to keep a more favorable future happening even when things are trying to derail it to an alternate-track bad future.

Dr. Cordell on the limited time window:

If we cannot achieve a human outpost in deep space by that time,( 2025.) we could be trapped in Earth orbit as the global economy slides for decades to the long wave trough(e.g., like ~1975-1995) and eventually recovers for the next Maslow Window near 2070. Keep in mind that nobody’s been beyond Earth orbit since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and that could occur again after 2025 unless we begin to colonize space.

• The two concerns now: Economic bust and war.
Economic bust-- if not for blatant Fed (and allied) manipulation and interference the present recession would have, according to Karl Denninger, come after the 2000 tech bust.

Karl Denninger.

This is a step-function with two steps - upward when Greenspan played hell with rates after the 2000 Tech Wreck (a bubble he intentionally inflated) and then in 2007 when you played hell with short rates after the disaster in 2007 - again, a bubble you caused through intentional and willful refusal to perform your job of regulation and enforcement of your black-letter mandate under the law. (Denninger is speaking to Bernanke) (see chart there)

Joseph : Because the ordinary Kondratieff cycle it was prevented from taking its' natural tendency after the 2000 tech bust, and a purging of bad debt was delayed, MUCH more unsustainable debt and bad financial structure was built up, literally to unprecedented amounts. It is true, said, Dr. Cordell, that during the last 200 years, no financial panic has ever delayed or diminished any Great Explorations or MEPs associated with a Maslow Window.

However, the recession that would have been over already is just now breaking as a full blown Depression. (with far greater debt overhang) This may not be OVER by 2015-- even 2020. Worse, war may follow immediately in its wake as it did last time around.

War on a major scale (sufficient to break down major powers or even to strain them financially) MUST be avoided to prevent interference with 'future-space-initiatives”

Minor wars are probably not too dangerous (although Vietnam killed the moon program) but one involving nuclear armed minor powers with a desire to 'take down the empire' i.e. with EMP effects or targeted suicide missions to major financial/industrial centers could have unprecedented leverage effects (the equivalent of a bad barbarian raid that despoils centuries of wealth, art and continuity in an Imperial capital)---

War can and has shut Maslow Windows prematurely.

Dr. Cordell:
The zeitgeist of the Polar Maslow Window was perhaps best expressed by a couple of 1960s historians, “To a visitor from Mars it must have appeared that the Western world in 1914 was on the brink of Utopia,” (see Cordell, 1996). Tragically, it all came screeching to a halt with World War I.

In fact, the most important Wild Card of the 2015 Maslow Window is the date of the major war expected in the 2020s. If it comes in the late 2020s, human civilization may expand to the Moon and possibly even Mars. If it starts closer to 2020 — in addition to the tragic loss of life and property — human expansion into the cosmos may be postponed until near 2071, when the late 21st Century Maslow Window is expected to open.

If the (Denninger modified) Cordell long wave theory is correct, ) (and once again, this is Joseph Friedlander frankly speculating, NOT the ideas of Dr. Cordell or Karl Denninger) this may be 1932-33 and there is literally no telling how bad 2011-12 may get. If the election had been held in November 1933 after the bank collapse and another year of Hoover-- and with Huey Long running--you get my point?? We are in uncharted waters...

All that is the bad side (arguing against a 2015 boom).
On the other hand, certainly reobtaining prosperity is becoming an obsession among the newly poor (formerly middle class who definitely don't like their new status)

Dr. Cordell:

Like a century ago, our current political realignment is motivated by — not political party or social class — but the return to prosperity. It’s always interesting that prosperity becomes Priority #1 as we approach a new Maslow Window.

OPTION II: Obama becomes a 1-term president: He becomes the new Grover Cleveland (and possibly LBJ), and leads to a pro-prosperity Republican presidency.
Historical/Economic Model: The Peary/Panama Maslow Window (1903-13).

Because of President Grover Cleveland’s (pictured above) inability to deal with the effects of the Panic of 1893, McKinley won the presidency in 1896 and presided over the return to prosperity. In 1901 McKinley’s successor, President Theodore Roosevelt led the U.S. into perhaps its most ebullient Maslow Decade in history …

Although current history is not necessarily hostage to an 1890s-style replay, one thing seems likely: the drive for prosperity in the form of a major economic boom commencing by 2015. Over the last 200+ years, this stage in the long business cycle (the “long wave”) consistently features a major economic boom that drives unprecedented, ebullient exploration and technology programs immersed in a Camelot-like zeitgeist.

(See; A Major Economic Boom by 2015? … The Lessons of Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Obama)

It is likely that Obama will be replaced... since he has gone through half his term with no sign of rebooting his Presidency--

It would seem, therefore, that we really could use political leadership that would act as if it did not have till 2018 or 2025 to fix things as seems to be the style at present, but that would cut WHATEVER HAD TO BE CUT and deregulate WHATEVER HAD TO BE DEREGULATED virtually overnight to enable the tech boom to materialize by 2015 (note that a 2012 victory would –even if overwhelming-- only have its enabling legislation in place by 2013 and it would easily take 2 years for the economy to recover even if 'instantly' set free in 2013. But if so-- AND we can keep out of a major war-- we can benefit from the full potential 10 years of the Maslow Window.

The nature of the deregulations should presumably be in things like patent laws (shorter terms, self-invention defense allowed) and national lab debugged new tech building blocks (and the tools to make them) that allow memes to spread quickly in recombinant form, as Dr. Cordell quoted in a book review:--

Author Matt Ridley — The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010) — and what set us apart from early human competitors such as the Neanderthals. After all, they were “nice” people too with big brains who even buried their dead, but never flourished culturally or economically and ceased making headlines 30,000 years ago; (Wall Street Journal, 5/22/10).

What do technology, sex, and the future have in common? (Ans: Collective Intelligence)

Ridley’s theme – “collective intelligence” – intriguingly illuminates the way humans surge forward technologically, economically, and culturally even today during epochal, twice-per-century Maslow Windows (e.g., the 1960s… )., Maslow Windows are most likely self organized criticality (SOC)

Pulsed progress — technologically, economically, culturally — provided by a succession of fractal Maslow Windows over the last 200 years has had a stunningly expansive effect on human specialization and exchange. All we have to do is compare Lewis and Clark’s canoes with the Saturn V rocket of Apollo!
Ridley reminds us that,

The story of the human race has been a gradual spread of specialization and exchange ever since: Prosperity consists of getting more and more narrow in what you make and more and more diverse in what you buy. Self-sufficiency — subsistence — is poverty.

Pulsed progress — technologically, economically, culturally — provided by a succession of fractal Maslow Windows over the last 200 years has had a stunningly expansive effect on human specialization and exchange. All we have to do is compare Lewis and Clark’s canoes with the Saturn V rocket of Apollo!

And this progression will continue. The anticipated arrival of the next Maslow Window by 2015 suggests another golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology is not far away. Ridley concurs that, “the human race will prosper mightily in the years ahead — because ideas are (recombinating--JF) with each other as never before.”

Dr. Cordell reminds us, that

“A reasonable rule of thumb is: “Great leaders help, but the economy rules.””

and Joseph Friedlander speaking in conclusion of this article::

And since there is no ebullience without prosperity it sounds like we have our work cut out for us! The next few years will tell the tale, if our society chose the difficult path of renewal or the easy path of decay...

Of course Dr. Cordell's theory (especially as I have messed with it in this article) may not be a true harbinger of what is to come. But what if it is...?

If you liked this article, please give it a quick review on ycombinator or StumbleUpon. Thanks

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