Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Cheating the Prophet

G.K. Chesterton, in the early 20th Century, described the humorous tendency of men to predict the future based upon current trends. (Most people believing in linear "Progress" or "Cycles") In the first chapter of his great novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, he wrote:
The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called, "Keep to-morrow dark," and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) "Cheat the Prophet." The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun...

... But the way the prophets of the twentieth century went to work was this. They took something or other that was certainly going on in their time, and then said that it would go on more and more until something extraordinary happened. And very often they added that in some odd place that extraordinary thing had happened, and that it showed the signs of the times.
Paul Craig Roberts pokes a similar hole in some of our economic prophets:
Economists are governed by the illusion that America's post-World War II prosperity is based on free trade. It is not. America's postwar prosperity was based on the destruction of the economic capability of the rest of the world by World War II and communism-socialism. America was prosperous in its trade because no one else could produce anything.
Now the spoiled scions of that unique monopolistic moment in history for the United States to get rich, the Baby Boomers, are steering the ship of state assuming, with all the sagacity of adolescents who know everything, that trends will continue and they can mortgage our inheritance on their foolish visions of a temporal utopia.

No comments: