The past year in predictions
I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I’m looking forward to Philip Tetlock’s new book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, which is based on oft-cited and interesting work Tetlock has conducted over the last decade that tries to understand what types of people are good at making predictions about the world. In Time magazine this week, Joel Stein summarizes Tetlock’s findings by describing a good forecaster as someone who 1) has a habit of keeping track of their failures (check); 2) a disbelief in fate (sort of); 3) a willingness to consult experts (do the links count?); 4) a vague proficiency at mathematics (that’s about right); and 5) not famous (bingo). So keeping in mind that, like most “dart throwing chimps,” I only meet some of the requirements of a good forecaster, here’s another humbling look at the predictions I made for 2015.
1). I predicted Scott Walker would be leading the pack of Republican contenders at this point. Did you believe me? I also thought Tim Pawlenty would be the favorite by the end of 2011. Apparently I still don’t quite understand the Republican mind. I was right about one thing, however – that things would be “fluid” and that it would be hard to predict during any given month what the outcome would be. As for Trump – I didn’t see that coming. Onto the next failed prediction . . .
2). Northern Iraq will be mostly under the control of Iraqi forces. Nope. As a matter of fact, despite recent successes, ISIS controls more territory in Iraq than it did at the beginning of the year. The momentum seems to be shifting, however.
3). Okay, I’ve been pretty good at predicting economic growth in the past. According to the NY Times, the best estimate of annual US GDP growth for 2015 is about 2.5%. I predicted 3-3.5%. So, my estimate was a bit high, but not as catastrophically wrong as the first two predictions.
4). My next prediction was about Venezuela and the instability I expected it to witness after it held parliamentary elections this past month. The elections resulted in a trouncing of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, led by President Nicolás Maduro, by the opposition MUD party.
To Maduro’s credit, the violence I anticipated would follow government shenanigans either in terms of the election itself or over the results have yet to materialize. Venezuela’s still a mess, however, and it remains to be seen how the new state-of-affairs will play out. But, I was wrong on this prediction too, for now . . .
5). Sadly, I was correct on my fifth prediction, however. Despite being a bit of an underdog, Benjamin Netanyahu pulled out a victory in the March Israeli election over Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, in part by playing to some of the worst instincts of parts of the Israeli public. Any hope of peace with Palestinians is even further away now.
6). On a happier note, I was correct that the US – Iranian nuclear talks would succeed. While it came down to the wire, the moderates on both sides won the day. Whatever the naysayers think, this deal is likely to pave the way to a new era of semi-cooperation with Iran on important issues, especially when it comes to rolling back ISIS. That is, unless the next US President is a Republican who decides to back out of it.
7). I predicted that tensions in Ukraine would simmer down. They have. Vladamir Putin even offered some words of reconciliation with the West this month. And why shouldn’t he? Putin is playing a long game in which he is willing to trade a stable Russian economy in the short-term for permanent gains in territory and influence in the long-term. Soon it will be business-as-usual with Russia while the Crimea remains under their control and the Donbas region remains a permanently frozen conflict.
8). In October, negotiators reached an agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade treaty, which was a bit earlier than I expected (I said probably not by year’s end). Congress will vote on it during the coming months. I’ll save my prediction about the outcome for my next posting.
9). I predicted that “things in Syria will still be a mess.” No surprise there, although maybe I should have predicted that they’d be an even bigger mess.
10). Speaking of an even bigger mess, I predicted that the US government, finding common cause against ISIS and Al Qaeda, would increase its cooperation with Houthis in Yemen after they seized control of the government. Instead, Saudi Arabia, with an unfortunate measure of US support, launched a bombing campaign against the Yemeni government that continues to this day. Meanwhile, ISIS has taken advantage of the chaos to grow even stronger in the region.
11). Another hopeful prediction was that Afghanistan would look more stable by this time of the year. The fall and recapture of Kunduz this year was emblematic of the fight there. Afghanistan neither appears stable nor like it’s going to fall apart (although the Taliban itself, might, which could be good news or bad news). The country is still treading water, and it looks like the lingering US presence there will continue to be there for a while.
12). I predicted that the Colombian government and FARC, the longest running insurgency in the world, would reach an agreement to end the conflict there. In this case, I was halfway right. The two sides have taken a piecemeal approach to negotiations, and have agreed to several major important measures. The hardest measure in ending civil conflict, however, entails how to convince rebels to demobilize and hand over their weapons. This last, big hurdle remains in 2016.
13). I predicted that 3D technology would become the next-big-thing in 2015. I jumped the gun a little on that – but I stand by the prediction. The year 2016, and beyond, will see some really interesting tech inventions with 3D technology.
14). I predicted that New England would win the Superbowl – in a blowout. Well, they won, but not in a blowout. And they may only have won because of Pete Carroll’s not-so-crazy goal line decision-making.
15). And, finally, the last prediction. This year, I seemed to have failed at more predictions than usual. At least I have my flawless record of Academy Award Best Film predictions to fall back on. In January of last year, I suggested that the Academy would prefer a movie about people in the entertainment industry – like themselves – and select Birdman to win. And for the fourth straight year I got this one right. If only politics were so simple.