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Who and why writers scenarios for the future…

Published on January 15, 2011 by: in: Economy

There is a greater demand and supply for prophets, visionaries, specialists thinking about future and even journalists who let their imagination run free in times of higher uncertainty. We live in such times; no wonder that there is a plethora of various scenarios and forecasts. It also applies to economy.

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Many of them are not grounded on fundaments of systematic knowledge. Many come directly from some visions of how the world functions (or, even worse, from the utopian idea how the world s h o u l d function). Sometimes these are products of personal obsessions and phobias. One of them is, for, example, anti-Americanism of left wing elites. Aversion to a better, richer, and more competitive, valorous country can be seen in many people. Anti-American Americans are additionally connected by the aversion to life philosophy and style of the majority of so dynamic and innovative society.

That is why they so willingly prophet the fall of the USA. A textbook case is a historian, Paul Kennedy, who, in his book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers prophets the twilight of America. He was, however, unlucky because in 1989, the year of publishing his book a great superpower collapsed but it was… the USRR. 20 years have passed and next people prophet the same in the case of America; they may well be right this time but because of different reasons (the real reason is America going etatistically and socially crazy).

Aversion to our world – liberal democracy and capitalistic market – is seen in many visionaries. Their problem is that they  most often use categorical statements instead of arguments. And we should remember that what will happen in the future is burdened with irremovable and radical uncertainty as one of Nobel economics prizewinner, Friedrich von Hayek, highlighted.

However, prof. Meinhard Miegel from Bonn has no doubts, putting forward statements which a serious scholar would not dare to formulate. Miegel openly states that a “continuous increase in prosperity has finished forever” or that “technical innovation will not increase prosperity”. And he calls those claims that are groundless and contradictory with experience “a statement of fact”.

It is common that behind faulty forecasts lies lack of knowledge of economics which is, unfortunately, anti-intuitive science. For example, counting meticulously some amounts of mineral resources these forecasters forget that besides future supply and demand there is also price and when it changes, stimuli and finally behaviors change. We have gone through such mistakes very often and we will probably do it again. Other forecast mistakes come from excessive faith in corrective state actions. From Plato’s utopia to a perfect state, through Thomas More and Jean-Jacques Rousseau utopias up to a monster Jacobin, communist and other ones – all of them believed in the future not only unrealized but also nor realizable…

Sometimes when I read visions of what people have in heart I wonder if complete ignorance of cumulated knowledge is possible. Once I came up with a term: “two reactionaries”. One is a pre-scientific reactionary, pre-enlightment one known for ages. The second is much younger, only a several dozen years old. I call it  a post-scientific reactionary. These are people so sure of their intellectual and moral superiority, of the rightness of what they say and do that no empirical knowledge or a coherent theory will dissuade them from their visions.

For “fighters of a good cause” the fact that science undermines the reality of their visions discredits… science. And it does not make them feel worse. The most important is feeling good. As Jerzy Dobrowolski, a satirist used to say: “good mood is half of your success. And a very good mood is just as the whole success…”. So scenarios and forecasts may turn out to be faulty or non-sensical from the beginning but it does not seem as important. Success is just a margin for them; the most important is that they signal “their people” a distinctive feature of fighters for a good cause. What is “fine” should develop in the scenario or a forecast; what is “wrong” inevitably (as Paul Kennedy’s America) must wait for a twilight…

Translation: Małgorzata Mrożewska; gosiamro@interia.pl

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About Jan Winiecki

Economist, professor of Aalborg University and European University Viadrina in Frankfurt, co-founder and president of the foundation of Adam Smith Center, former member of the EBRD board, co-founder and former president of the Polish Economic Society, laureate of Kisiel Prize.

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