Snyder “Wake me when it's over.”

That's the attitude of a lot folks these days, and who can blame them? The first 12 years of the 21st century have given us Enron, Worldcom, Sarbanes-Oxley, 9/11, two wars, political unrest, a housing bust, a market freefall, a recession and stubbornly high unemployment, not to mention mind-numbing technological advances that have left us scrambling to keep up.

The question many of us are asking is, “When will it all get back to normal?”

The answer, says David Pearce Snyder, is, “Never.” And that's a good thing.

Cliche as it sounds, the acclaimed futurist says we've entered a “new normal” in which complexity rules the day. According to Snyder:

  • We're getting older: Those 65 and older will be the biggest age cohort by 2015. Forty-five percent of baby boomers expect to work into their 70s, and 27 percent expect to be working in their 80s.
  • Our age is impacting our economy: Health care will account for 20 percent of the U.S. GDP by 2020. That same year, 20 percent of all U.S. jobs will be health-related.
  • We're creating fewer jobs: From 2000 to 2010, we created 79 jobs for every 100 new Americans. From 2008 to 2018, that number will have fallen to 49.
  • We're spending less and saving more: Median wages and household income fell in 2008 to 1983 levels. Average U.S. household savings rates rose from 0.3 percent to 6.4 percent from 2008 to 2010. Consumer debt is falling. The average square footage of new homes sold has fallen dramatically. Sales of new homes and cars are off significantly.
  • The government will follow suit: All levels of U.S. government will have to cut spending and raise taxes, fees and tolls. Retirement age will rise to preserve Social Security, and a “Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” may be created to consider massive federal spending cuts and major tax reforms.

“The economy has shifted gears, and it's a long-term downshifting, not a business cycle,” Snyder told more than 300 state CPA society representatives during a recent conference in Palm Beach. “Consumer spending is expected to remain 5 to 10 percent below pre-recession levels for at least the next five years.”

The good news is this: Snyder says some really good times might be right around the corner.

Historically, he says, periods of dramatic technological improvements — like the one we find ourselves in today, thanks to the cloud, mobile, social media, the green movement, robotics, nano- and biotechnology, et. al. —  have been preceded by extended periods of economic contraction.

In other words, if we can tread water for a few more years, things are going to get much, much better.

“Economic historians assure us that new technology will eventually enable millions of ordinary employees to add more value in the workplace, increasing general prosperity,” Snyder says. Historically, he says, such periods of economic prosperity have lasted as long as 30 years.

When that time comes, it'll be CPAs to the rescue.

The more complex business becomes, the more Snyder says we need to increase our “complexipacity” — our ability to deal with complex change. And that's right in the CPA profession's wheelhouse.

It's the profession's core purpose, after all — making sense of a changing an complex world.

This, it would seem, is our time.

Learn more
Find out more about what the future has in store for the profession by attending one of our professional issues updates. They're free for members and worth 2 hours of CPE — and they'll keep you ahead of the complexipacity curve. Get details and register here.

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