“Daniel Franklin, the executive editor and business affairs editor at the Economist, is a tentative chap for a prognosticator. As well as editing this round-up of seers’ views of the four decades ahead, he and his co-editor John Andrews are also responsible for the Economist’s annual publication on the coming year ‘The World in …’. Perhaps it’s this workaday familiarity with the imperfections of futurology that makes Franklin so keen to distance himself from any great likelihood of being right.
“In his introduction to these 20 essays by his colleagues he says that, while identifying the trends that are transforming the world right now is eminently possible, foreseeing how they may shape the world in 2050 is ‘absurdly ambitious. History is littered with prophecies that turned out to be utterly wrong.’ He then cites just two of these clunkers: the radical journalist HN Brailsford writing in 1914: ‘My own belief is that there will be no more wars among the six Great Powers,’ and the Economist Irving Fisher predicting a stock market rise a week before the 1929 crash.
“Indeed, throughout the whole of Megachange, the impossibility of predicting the future is a strange and persistent lament, ever encouraging the reader in search of experts prepared to boldly go there to chuck the book into the nearest bin. But for all that, the examples of failed anticipation listed here are remarkably few – excepting Matt Ridley’s bizarrely tendentious rant in the concluding essay, of which more anon.”
Read the rest of Will Self’s review of Megachange here.