Newswise — For the 32nd consecutive year, The University of Alabama’s Office of Media Relations offers predictions from faculty experts for the coming year. While these “educated guesses” don’t always come true, our track record over the years has been good. So, what’s ahead for 2013? Look for self-driving cars in showrooms, rural hospitals to face tough choices, health care reform to bring “five stages of grief,” and a ride over the “fiscal cliff” that won’t be as dire as some depict.
Self-Driving Cars to Take Off
Once in the realm of science fiction, cars able to drive themselves will become more prevalent as the first versions are introduced to consumers during 2013, according to a University of Alabama engineering professor who worked to develop the technology. “It will get tremendous notice,” says Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian. “Premium luxury cars will kick it off.” While some companies such as Google are experimenting with vehicles that drive without the need for human interaction, the luxury cars with autonomous driving features to be introduced in 2013 will feature autonomous driving only in certain situations. Government regulations, liability issues and a general uneasiness with shifting all the driving to computers means any move to entirely robotic cars will be slow.
Cycling Scandal to Reverberate throughout Sports
The scandal that rocked the cycling world could well make its way into other American sports in 2013, causing advertisers to think twice about whom they support, says Dr. Lance Kinney, associate professor of advertising and public relations at The University of Alabama. “The Lance Armstrong doping scandal is likely to ripple into other major U.S. sports,” Kinney says. “Not only is Armstrong currently a pariah among his former sponsor brands, Armstrong’s sponsors are suing him to have their already paid sponsorship fees returned. If sponsors successfully recoup their money, all brands sponsoring scandalized athletes will expect refunds,” Kinney says.
Fiscal Cliff Won’t be All Bad
Fasten your seat belt, says Dr. Paul Drnevich, an associate professor of strategic management at The University of Alabama, “because we will likely go over the ‘fiscal cliff’ in some capacity in early 2013.” But, says Drnevich, “It wouldn’t really be all that bad to do so.” “Fiscal cliff” is the term used to describe the problem the U.S. government will face at the end of 2012, when the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are scheduled to go into effect. As Drnevich explains it, going over the “fiscal cliff” would not be a bad as most fear and likely be a net positive in the longer term for the U.S. economy for several reasons. So while perceived as a negative signal by the markets and media, accomplishing “real” reductions in federal spending would signal a “turning of the tide” and a path toward fiscal responsibility and back to solvency, he says.
Revenue to Prompt More States to Legalize Marijuana
Following votes to decriminalize marijuana in Washington and Colorado, more states in 2013 will begin looking at legalizing the drug, a University of Alabama criminal justice expert says. “Once states start enjoying increased tax revenue and having a budget surplus instead of a deficit because of taxing legalized marijuana sales, more states are going to follow suit,” says Dr. Mark Lanier, chair of the UA criminal justice department. Along with the prospect of increased revenue, Lanier says states will re-evaluate marijuana laws because of the heavy burden of keeping drug offenders in prison. “We can’t afford it. It’s bankrupting our country.” Lanier says that conservative states, like Alabama, are unlikely to move on decriminalizing marijuana as quickly as many others.
Rural Hospitals Face Tough Choices
In 2013 and beyond, rural hospitals in Alabama will need to combine and coordinate their services – or some will close, says a University of Alabama expert in rural and family medicine. “We have several rural hospitals that are hanging on by a thread because they are trying to maintain the old, autonomous model of hospital, provide full service and be on their own,” says Dr. Richard H. Streiffer, dean of UA’s College of Community Health Sciences. “Rural hospitals need to change to a new model – to provide the first level of local health care that people need, and then coordinate effectively with a larger regional health systems …” Through technology, doctors … will be able to provide patients with more services in the office and at home – meaning you may even see doctors restart making house calls.
International Intervention in Syria Unlikely; Iran to Simmer
The civil war in Syria between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and anti-Baath Party rebels likely will continue throughout 2013 with the international community looking on, a University of Alabama political scientist predicts. “… this is likely to be a very long war … as most civil wars are,” says Dr. Emily Hencken Ritter, UA assistant professor of political science and an expert in armed conflict. Despite the escalation of the conflict, Ritter says the international community is unlikely to intervene. In addition, Ritter predicts the standoff between Iran and an international alliance, including the United States, over Iran’s purported attempt to build a nuclear weapon will continue in 2013. But the chances of Iran finishing a nuclear weapon are low, she says.
Healthcare Reform to Bring ‘Five Stages of Grief’
The upcoming year will bring significant changes in health care, according to Dr. Marilyn Whitman, assistant professor and coordinator of the undergraduate healthcare management program at The University of Alabama. “The Affordable Care Act, with its full implementation coming to light by 2014, will cause what Elizabeth Kubler Ross described as the five stages of grief,” says Whitman, a professor in UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce.“Arguably, the country is largely in shock over the upcoming changes,” Whitman says. “In many ways, we are paralyzed and numb to the news, and many states are still in denial about the changes. Inevitably, 2013 will see the remaining stages of anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance.
No Decreases for Pell Grant Funding
Don’t expect Pell Grant funding to decrease in 2013, a University of Alabama professor predicts. Though new restrictions left thousands without their anticipated funding in fall 2012, Dr. Stephen Katsinas say he is confident the federal government won’t axe Pell Grant funding if and when it hammers out a new budget in the coming year. “Mr. Romney supported Pell grants in the second presidential debate; while President Obama benefited from a substantial youth vote, which was concerned about Pell grants,” says Katsinas, director of UA’s Education Policy Center. “I think we’re coming to grips with the notion that more of our people need to be educated if we’re to again be No. 1 in the world in higher education. There’s also realization that we’re not going to balance the federal budget on the backs of college students.”
Retailers to Keep Storefronts, Sharpen Online Services
Consumers in the coming year can expect competitive retailers to look for ways to adjust their expensive storefront footage while sharpening online services, says Dr. Kristy Reynolds, the Bruno Professor of Marketing at The University of Alabama. “Retailers are adopting very sophisticated analytics to monitor competitor pricing,” says Reynolds. “They know if they are competitive and whether they need to raise or lower the price.” That means if Amazon offers a short-term discount in their “lightning deal,” other online stores know immediately and may adjust accordingly. Reynolds says more consumers are visiting big box stores to see products and ask questions and then returning home to buy online. Reynolds predicts more retailers will begin offering products that are exclusive to their store.
Bad Economy to be Good for Your Diet in 2013
The bad economy may be good for your health in 2013, a University of Alabama nutrition expert predicts. Swings in the economy will fuel a continued trend toward shopping at farmers markets as the local or “slow food” movement gains momentum in the coming year. This could help many save money while eating healthier in 2013, says Dr. Kristi M. Crowe, assistant professor in the department of human nutrition in the UA College of Human Environmental Sciences. Crowe says farmers markets eliminate overhead fees and make it possible to meet the farmers face-to-face and ask specific questions about where and how their goods were grown. “People are looking to reconnect with their food,” she says. “Ask the questions and get to know your farmer. That’s what the slow food movement is really all about.”
Sporting-Event Attendance to Drop in 2013
A combination of factors will result in sporting-event attendance dropping in 2013, says Dr. Andrew Billings, a University of Alabama sports communication researcher. “The confluence of high ticket prices, better at-home media viewing and the desire to share athletic experiences with others via social media will result in more tickets being discounted and more seats being empty,” says Billings, the Ronald Reagan Endowed Chair in Broadcasting in UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences’ telecommunication and film department. Teams will see profits increase through television contracts rather than ticket sales. But don’t expect empty stands at the biggest of the big sporting events – the BCS Championship Game, for example. “Megasporting events will retain large-draw status …”
Look for Bump in State’s GDP, Employment in 2013
Alabama’s gross domestic product, the market value of goods and services produced and often considered an indicator of the state’s standard of living, should grow by about 1.5 to 2.0 percent in 2013, predicts a University of Alabama economist. Ahmad Ijaz, an economic analyst at The University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research, says transportation equipment manufacturing, which includes auto manufacturing, will be one of the thriving industries. “Relatively strong sales of vehicles produced in Alabama are expected to continue, albeit at a slightly slower pace than seen in 2012 or during the first half of 2012,” Ijaz says. Looking outside the state, Ijaz says with exports and business-spending no longer major drivers in the recovery, and a looming “fiscal cliff,” national growth is expected to slow to approximately 1.8 to 2.2 percent in 2013.