Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola Co., Chip Bergh of Levi Strauss, Rhonda Vetere of Estée Lauder Cos., Sheila Marcelo of Care.com, Marvin Ellison of J.C. Penney Co., Alex Lacik of Reckitt Benckiser, and Dave Brandon of Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. are among those who have lent their voices to the America@250 dialogue.
A key goal of America@250 is to help leaders in retail, health and other industry sectors safeguard against emerging risks and be ready to take full advantage of growth and profit opportunities arising over the coming decade.
To inform and enlighten such efforts, A.T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council has rigorously studied the key drivers shaping the macro environment, and how they interact. We then applied these findings in a comprehensive scenario planning exercise to envision four starkly contrasting, yet highly conceivable visions of America in the year 2026.
No one can predict the future, but scenario planning offers detailed, realistic contexts in which leadership teams can clarify their options and develop practical contingencies. Each of the four America@250 scenarios is defined by the level of economic performance (i.e., gross domestic product growth) America may experience over the coming decade and by the level of national alignment (political and social) the nation may realize over the same time period.
• So Gallantly Streaming (High Economic Performance/High National Alignment) — This is a bright vision of an America raised to new heights by a renewed spirit of bipartisan shared purpose, breathtaking technological advances and a diversely vibrant economy.
• Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Low Economic Performance/Low National Alignment) — This scenario captures the dark possibility of an America experiencing steep decline, paralyzed by political polarization, low economic growth, infrastructure degradation, declining education and health care, and eroding global competitiveness.
• The Perilous Fight (High Economic Performance/Low National Alignment) — In this mixed vision of America@250, technological innovation powers pockets of the American economy, but widening income inequality and scarcity of opportunity tear at the fabric of society.
• Dawn’s Early Light (Low Economic Performance/High National Alignment) — In this possible future, politically awakened Millennials reshape American policy, slashing defense spending and increasing investments in education and human services. Economic growth and personal wealth decline, however, as Millennial consumers pursue a less materialistic American dream.
Economic growth forecasts vary widely among the four possible futures, from a low of just 1.4% annual average real GDP growth in “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” to a high of 3.4% average real GDP growth in “So Gallantly Streaming.” For the purposes of comparing our high-low forecasts with recent history, the U.S. economy experienced average annual growth of 2.4% in the 25 years before 2015, ranging from 3.2% during the 1990s economic boom to an average of just 1.8% during the economically turbulent 2000s. This means that while our high and low forecasts range beyond anything the U.S. economy has experienced over the past few decades, they are within the realm of the possible.
To gain insights into national alignment trends, our America@250 survey of 2,590 Americans found that most are prepared to push toward the optimistic “So Gallantly Streaming” future in 2026, as 93% acknowledge the need to invest in education and infrastructure; 89% believe the United States must continue providing global leadership; and a solid 70% say they are willing to compromise and sacrifice to make life better for future generations. Yet many Americans doubt they are getting the leadership they deserve. The same poll found that roughly half of Americans believe their vote doesn’t matter, due to the negative political environment.
Any of the America@250 scenarios (or a combination thereof) could come to pass. Companies that do not proactively identify contingencies for operating in a range of macro environments will likely be hesitant, and thus vulnerable, while those who do rigorously prepare will be primed to prosper and grow.
Todd Huseby is a partner at A.T. Kearney.
*Editor’s Note: America@250 includes the industry-specific initiatives Consumers@250 and Health@250, which scan the future state of consumers, retail and the U.S. health ecosystem through demographic, economic and political lenses. Visit the America@250 interactive hub hosted by A.T. Kearney and The Wall Street Journal, featuring rich interactive experiences, authoritative research and compelling America@250 perspectives shared by prominent CEOs, government officials and expert thought leaders.