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The outlook for 2004

WHAT A YEAR it has been! But what will 2004 bring? You can be a pundit, too. Here are some scenarios for the New Year. I'll reveal my own guesses at the bottom of the column, and this time next year we can see who was the best prognosticator.


1. Politics.

(a) Howard Dean sweeps the Democratic primaries, wins his party's nomination, picks Wesley Clark as his running mate, fires up the Democratic base -- and loses a close race to President Bush.

(b) Dick Gephardt and Wesley Clark do better than expected. Kerry hangs in. Dean narrowly places first in several primaries, but captures only 40 percent of the delegates as the vote splinters. Clark, with 30 percent of delegate votes and Gephardt with 25 percent form a Clark-Gephardt ticket. Clark's patriotic appeal in the South combined with Gephardt's pocketbook pull in the Midwest manage to win a squeaker over Bush.

(c) The Democratic convention deadlocks. On the fifth ballot, the delegates turn to Hillary Clinton. Dean's enraged supporters bolt. Clinton picks John Edwards as her running mate, and the Democratic ticket is trounced by Bush.

2. Economics.

(a) The recovery finally clicks into high gear in 2004. Unemployment comes down to 4.6 percent as the economy generates 200,000 jobs a month. The stock market rally continues. Foreigners keep buying our bonds, inflation is flat, and interest rates stay nice and low.

(b) Wall Street notices the immense federal budget deficits and grows anxious about inflation. Interest rates creep up in response. That's good for the dollar, but the higher interest rates extinguish the stock market and the jobs boom. Unemployment climbs back to 7 percent.

(c) The trade deficit keeps climbing through the roof. Foreigners start pulling out of US securities. The dollar crashes. The Federal Reserve hikes interest rates to defend the currency. The economy goes into a steep recession.

3. Foreign affairs.

(a) With Saddam Hussein's capture, things finally start to quiet down in Iraq. The administration makes a deal with the UN for a multilateral force to keep civil order. The Sunni, Kurd, and Shi'ite factions agree on a constitution. Saddam goes on trial, and most US forces are home by Election Day.

(b) With Saddam gone, various militant groups that resent the US presence escalate guerrilla activities. The UN, affronted by US policies, refuses to assist in peacekeeping. A constitution is agreed to by a basically nonrepresentative body, and civil war breaks out. Bush sends in another 100,000 troops.

(c) On their fifth try, militants succeed in assassinating Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. An Islamist government takes power in a coup. American troops are sent in to locate and neutralize Pakistani nuclear weapons. They aren't sure where to look.

4. Science and medicine.

(a) The pharmaceutical industry patents a new miracle drug that can reverse the aging process. Hardly anyone can afford to buy it; Medicare won't cover it.

(b) Drug companies declare that all children's vaccines, AIDS medications, and other life-saving drugs are public goods and encourage the world's public health authorities to manufacture them at cost.

(c) The FDA bans commercials for products that display footballs being tossed through swinging tires or flame logos that look suspiciously like female body parts.

5. Religious observance.

(a) President Bush joins a new Bible study group and learns that Jesus had compassion for the poor. He offers a born-again tax and budget program.

(b) Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon joins a new Torah study group and learns that Jews are taught, in the Book of Exodus, to regret the suffering even of their enemies. He invites Yasser Arafat to join him in the Geneva peace process.

(c) The Iranian mullahs join a new Koran study group and learn about the history of 15th-century Spain, in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in mutual tolerance and respect. They sponsor a secular constitution.

(d) Tribal and religious strife escalate.

6. Consumer culture and recreation.

(a) Detroit succeeds in making a non-polluting fuel-cell car that gets 100 miles to the gallon. Hardly anyone buys it. SUVs enjoy a record year.

(b) Bill Gates announces that Windows is a widely loathed failure and converts Microsoft's business plan to the production of open-source programs that compete fairly with products made by rival software companies. Billions weep with joy and appreciation.

(c) In 2004 World Series, Red Sox beat Cubs in seven.

My picks: 1. (a), 2. (b), 3. (b,c), 4. (a), 5. (d), 6. (c)

Robert Kuttner's is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

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