October 5, 2012

Ex-CIA Official Sees ‘Supersonic Boom’ in Global Growth: RIIA Confab

Former intel officer Herb Meyer touts emerging global middle class

Putting retirement income issues into a larger context was a theme of the Retirement Income Industry Association’s fall conference, held in Boston Thursday and Friday.

Ex-intelligence official Herb Meyer predicted a “supersonic boom” in the world economy in coming decades, resulting from heightened consumer demand from a “global middle class” including potentially billions of people recently emerged from poverty.

Meyer, who was vice chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council during the Reagan administration, described the intelligence community’s role as “serving as the president’s radar” in providing early notification of developments not yet visible.

Meyer’s keynote address on Thursday was aimed at providing a similar “radar” for the assembled retirement advisors and executives at the RIIA Conference, which was held alongside the Retirement Income Symposium sponsored by AdvisorOne. The two events were timed to allow networking by their respective attendees during breaks.

In introducing Meyer, consultant Clint Watts noted that the keynote speaker had predicted that the Cold War was nearing an end back in 1983, contrary to widespread opinion among analysts at that time. Watts, a former Army officer, recalled that in attending West Point in 1991 he entered the post-Cold War era Meyer had predicted.

The emergence of a global middle class also means reduced international tensions, Meyer told the RIIA conferees. “People like us don’t go to war with people like us,” he said. “We send nasty emails. If it’s really bad, we call the lawyer."

Meyer’s generally upbeat picture of world developments included an acknowledgement of turmoil in the Middle East. He described the Islamic world as beginning a painful transition into modernity similar to that undertaken by Western countries with the industrial revolution.

It’s a process that takes time and includes many setbacks, according to Meyer. In the Islamic world, there are “a billion and a half people beginning to make the journey we began three centuries ago,” he said. “And we keep saying to them ‘Can you guys do this by next Thursday?’ No, they can’t.”

Another presentation at the RIIA conference, also on Thursday, further developed the concept of having a “radar” to foresee world events, and did so in a more literal way.

James Andrus, CEO of the information firm News Patterns, described and demonstrated a service his firm offers to clients in energy, insurance and other industries. The system, designed to look like a radar screen, uses algorithms to monitor Internet news sources and social media to provide early notification of developing trends.

Moving dots represent topics arising and relationships forming among them. Items closer to the center of the screen are those getting greater attention on the Internet.

For instance, Andrus showed attendees a screen representing current risks in the world financial system. Glancing at the screen, he said “Portugal’s perking up today for some reason.”

Such a system, Andrus told the RIIA attendees, could be used to monitor whether public alarm is growing about gas prices, federal deficits and other issues. It could also be used to spot trends among retirees, such as increased delays in retirement or growing use of home medical monitoring systems.

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