How did last year’s forecasts fare?
The most provocative prediction in last year’s edition was that in 2013 the best place to be born would be Switzerland, and the worst Nigeria. It is too soon to tell whether this is true, but for most of the other forecasts in The World in 2013 the verdict is in. As usual, we had our share of hits and misses—as well as some that fall in between the two.
First, the hits. We were broadly right on the economy. We expected a clearer recovery in America, hardly any growth for the euro area, a decent expansion in China but “drooping” growth in India.
We overlooked the impact Shinzo Abe’s policies would have in Japan, but got Britain’s growth right. We reckoned its economic prospects were brighter than most people thought. At first, amid talk of a triple-dip recession, our contrarian view looked ill-judged. Then statistical revisions suggested the country might not have had a double dip, let alone a triple one. And Britain’s economic numbers have recently been looking up.
Our preview of an international panel’s scientific assessment of climate change summed up what its actual report would say a year later. We speculated that Microsoft and Nokia, two losers in the shift from fixed to mobile internet access, might merge in 2013 (in September Microsoft bought Nokia’s mobile-phone business). We flagged issues of privacy as a growing problem for companies like Google. But we did not foresee the event that would thrust privacy into the news: revelations from Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, about America’s mass-surveillance programmes.
We failed to predict a military coup in Egypt
Some predictions can prove to be at once right and wrong. We correctly thought, for example, that the elderly Pope Benedict would face daunting difficulties, but did not imagine he would resign and be replaced by the lively Pope Francis. We expected Angela Merkel to win the German election and that a new small party would emerge strongly—but we thought that party would be the Pirates rather than the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany. We assumed that America would avert a “fiscal cliff” early in the year, but failed to imagine a government shutdown in the autumn. We worried about al-Qaeda’s impact in Africa, envisaging battles in the sands of the Sahara (and terrorists duly besieged a gas plant in the Algerian desert in January); but not in a shopping centre in Nairobi.
Paramedics brace themselves for February 23rd, World Sword-Swallowers’ day
And the clear misses? They included some big ones. Not for the first time we underestimated the staying power of President Bashar Assad in Syria. We did not foresee the tragic testing of Barack Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. We failed to predict a military coup in Egypt. We did not mention the winner of Iran’s presidential election, Hassan Rohani.
We also missed the protests that spread across many countries in 2013, from Brazil to Turkey to Bulgaria. True, we had given warning of the risk of widespread social unrest in The World in 2010. But with forecasts, timing is everything.
Daniel Franklin: editor, The World in 2014