The following article appears in the 25th anniversary issue of World Policy Journal. For the month of November, read the entire 25th anniversary issue, fall 2008, for free!
By Richard Cooper
The record of long-term forecasting, particularly by economists, is not a glorious one. In a celebrated article, the great English economist John Maynard Keynes, writing in 1930 about “the economic possibilities of our grandchildren,” forecast that in a century’s time the working week would be about 15 hours long, thus creating a serious challenge of how to use our extensive leisure. We have less than a quarter century to realize that result. The trends point in the right direction, but are substantially off in magnitude.
In the early 1950s, the Twentieth Century Fund published an ambitious projection of the world economy to the year 2000, in which it foretold a world population of 3.25 billion, up from 2.4 billion in 1950, and concluded that the major future challenge would be how to feed so many people. In fact, the world population in 2000 was about 6.1 billion, and the average diet was significantly better than it was in 1950. And, of course, many forecasts of world energy demand were made after the oil shocks of the 1970s, most of which proved wildly wrong.Continue reading…