If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that predictions are rarely right. So I’m not going to list the top five trends for the year. Or make any predictions for what might or might not happen.
The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andrew Haldane, admitted today that his field of economic forecasting is going through something of a crisis. Its predictions of the dire consequences of Brexit haven’t materialised – yet. And economists failed to predict the 2008 financial crisis. Something he described as the profession’s “Michael Fish moment”.
We see a similar theme in opinion polls: failing to predict the Conservative majority in the 2015 election, missing the surge of popular support for Brexit, and Trump’s victory. I could, and have argued that each was the failure of interpretation rather than of the polls themselves. But the fact remains, predictions were made with great certainty and, like economists, they were wrong.
Tim Harford notes in the FT that predictions offer us “a lazy way to understand a complex world”. We seem addicted to such forecasts even though they so often prove incorrect. This might be because we can’t accept the complexity of the world and the uncertainty of the future.
The danger of a prediction is that it clouds further thought. A great deal of effort goes into the prediction leaving little room for further evidence. We suffer confirmation bias.
My new year’s resolution for 2017 is that I’m not going to predict anything. I’ll keep my ears open and keep listening. Being fluid to changing mood and opinion is a much better strategy than grandstanding predictions. Only then will the big shocks of last year translate into real insight and understanding.