Clear thinking

Headed to Davos?

Don’t believe it

I know that at least one of my readers is headed to Davos this week for the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of world leaders, business titans, economists and other assorted experts, who come to find out what some of the world’s foremost experts have to say about our future.

The rest of us will have to find out what they say via the news media, but the point of this article is that it won’t be a good idea to take what they say literally and rush out to buy survival supplies. Regardless of how famous the speaker—in fact, because of how famous the speaker—be very, very skeptical. And don’t return home and start spreading the gloom and doom you are sure to hear.

The general theme of all the talks will be about how screwed up our system is and how we should absolutely follow their advice for major changes to our economies, prescription societies and indeed our way of thinking.

In order to support their themes, each expert will confidently make predictions about what will happen in the coming decades; they will extrapolate current trends to paint dire consequences; they will predict the demise of the capitalist system and the sure downfall of our Western way of life—unless we immediately do what they advise.

As Klaus Schwab, the founder of the forum reminds incoming participants: “To respond to the expectations of the young generation, we have to provide them with the hope and confidence that they will not have to pay for the mistakes and excesses of the present generation. There is a tipping point where velocity, interconnectivity and complexity become so pervasive that the whole system collapses, regardless of whether certain elements at the surface have been addressed.”

(Wow—with that kind of pessimism I don’t think I’ll buy green bananas.)

Of course, there is a possibility that some may paint a rosy picture of the future, but it’s not likely at this forum, because pessimism is the current flavor of the day and none of these independent thinkers wants to be out of step with all of the others.

Besides, they love the attention they get, and the press is not going to waste much ink on positives.

At the risk of irony, I am going to predict that most of their predictions will be wrong. I don’t pretend to know which, but I am confident in my prediction because the record shows that most expert predictions are wrong, and the more famous and confident the predictor, the more likely they will be wrong. (Given my current level of fame, I guess that practically guarantees that I will be right)

As Dan Gardner shows in his book, Future Babble, dart-throwing monkeys as a class have a better track record than pundits, who in the past have confidently predicted mass starvation (when the world population was an “unsustainable” 3 billion in the late 60s as compared to 7 billion today), military dictatorship in the US, the rise to world economic domination of first the USSR and then Japan, the Y2K bug causing the collapse of our interconnected economy, etc.

In fact, if you go back through the record of previous predictors, as Gardner does, you’ll note that our world is always on the verge of imminent catastrophe. Yet somehow we always manage to pull through.

Of course, there’s always a chance that they may be right this time. But I wouldn’t put money on it.

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