Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

Perilous predictions for 2011


Afghan Boy

It’s the season to be merry – and to make forecasts about next year. Across the finance industry fine minds spend December crafting outlooks and extrapolations about how the world will fare, in the hope of a decent return over the next 12 months and avoiding the bear traps that will swallow an investment. The banks, strategic advisories and political risk consultants trumpet their analytical prowess, of course, but are also meeting a natural human need to peer into the future. We all want guidance to take the sting out of living in an uncertain world.

Nowhere is prediction more fraught with peril than in politics and world affairs. The success rate is in inverse proportion to the costs that unexpected acts in the real world can impose on the investor. So despite the difficulty of providing a reliable guide to the future there are huge incentives to try to chart the way ahead. Here’s  Control Risks, a risk consultancy firm, on its view of 2011, while competitor Eurasia reveals in early January, as does the World Economic Forum. Nomura has a list of 10 political challenges to prosperity that range from the prospect of gridlock in US domestic politics to brinksmanship on the Korean peninsula.

So which voices warning of political perils should one heed? There’s a crowded field of commentators, perhaps because political outcomes are not as reducible to numbers as economic indicators, where the industry of forecasting has statistical validity. If you work for a well-known investment bank or strategic studies institute your thoughts carry  institutional gravitas. However, and this is somewhat a statement of the obvious, only a track record of smart forecasting earns you an audience. That, and saying something worthwhile. Worse than getting a prediction wrong is being so blandly vacuous and broad in scope that your forecasts are both right and uninformative.

Respected voices suggest that beyond pointing to areas of dispute and potential tension, political forecasters are attempting the impossible. “The science of prediction is a contradiction in terms,” says Nigel Inkster, a former British intelligence officer who analyses international political risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There are so  many potential variables that could come together in so many potential configurations that it is really difficult to identify anything about which you can be really confident,” says Inkster.