YOU can’t predict the future. But you can prepare for it.

That was the key takeaway from the keynote speech given by Dr Lowell Catlett, an expert in commodities futures markets who touched on everything from 3D printing to oxytocin in a rambling, rollicking 51 minutes.

He said that of the 7000 forecasts his profession made in the last decade—everything from individual stock prices to the unemployment rate—only 47% turned out to be accurate.

“Understand that you can flip a coin and beat us by 3%,” he said. “We don’t know jack about the future. We don’t. But guess what? Nobody knows.

“One of the things I loved about George Patton was his comment, ‘No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.’ As soon as the bullets start flying, guess what? You can change the plan. But he also said, ‘No general goes into battle without a plan.’ You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it. Because if you prepare for it, you are the ones who are the quickest and most adaptable to this uncertain future.

“In the last three years, the fastest-growing oil-and-gas-producing state in the nation is not Texas. It’s North Dakota. North Dakota? There’s like three people in North Dakota. Three very rich people. If you take the Bakken oil reserve and lay it over the top of Saudi Arabia—the largest known pool of oil and gas in the world right now—it’s slightly larger.”

He said he researched the major energy companies in the world to determine if, a decade ago, they had thought about a day when America would be energy independent.

“Not one had even thought about it, prepared for it,” he said. “They’re the ones that, in the last 10 years, developed fracking and horizontal drilling, invented parabolic drilling, took offshore oil platform drilling in three times deeper water. And they still didn’t see it coming.

“I’m not picking on oil companies. Nobody knows the future. But you can kind of prepare for it. It does matter. Because when you get ready for it, you’re ready for some phenomenal things.”

Getting richer

Catlett said that in 2013, the world produced $70 trillion in goods and services—the largest ever on record. Meanwhile, 121 million American households had a collective net worth of $72 trillion—also the largest ever on record.

“We have more net worth than the entire output of the whole world,” he said. “That’s pretty good. The world has never seen so much wealth.”

The average American uses just 9.6% of their disposable income to eat, compared to 23% in 1970, Catlett said. And the average house in the 2010 census—2½ bathrooms, three bedrooms, 2400 square feet—has never been cheaper to own, with an interest rate that is now just over 4%, compared to double digits in the 1970s.

He said the average American has 69% of their disposable income left after eating, drinking, owning a home, and paying utilities.

“You want a vibrant economy?” he said. “It’s what I call the ‘crap factor.’ Buying stuff. The ‘crap factor’ is what drives markets.

“If all you have is basic subsistence, people don’t buy enclosed trailers to take their horses to a show. But in a high ‘crap factor’ world, we create markets. And that’s valuable and powerful. It’s what drives the economy. Because get ready, folks. There’s coming a revolution that will blow your doors off.

“We have had the cell phone for 41 years, but only widespread use for 15 to 20 years. This is the 10th year we’re celebrating putting a camera on it. What has happened to the number of photographs taken in the last 10 years? A ten-fold increase. You have no idea where they are. They’re in cyberspace, but you have 10 times more.

“Amazon promises me that if I have wireless cell service anywhere in the world, I can download an eBook in 60 seconds on a Kindle. It’s a game changer. People laughed at (founder Jeff Bezos) because they were convinced everyone wanted to hold and feel a book. Well, in five years, Amazon sells more eBooks than real books, and they sell more real books than anybody in the world.

“Build those new systems, because new technologies are going to change things,” Catlett said. “The manufacturing world has never been richer, which means the world wants more things than ever.” ♦

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