There are some forecasts their authors would rather forget.
Political, Social and Economic
Science and Technology
Political, Social and Economic
three greatest population changes of the century were widely missed -- 1) the extent of
the rise in population with the demographic transition as death rates fell in
developing countries, 2) the baby boom, and 3) the global decline in population
growth rates since the 1970s.
Nikita S. Krushchev's 1956 statement : "We will
bury you." was followed by the deterioration and collapse of
John Maynard Keynes said that it is okay to sometimes be
wrong, as long as one is quickly found out. Some are found out more quickly or
more startlingly than they thought possible.
"It is significant that despite the claims of air enthusiasts no
battleship has yet been sunk by bombs."
Caption for a photograph of the U.S.S. Arizona in the program for the
Army-Navy game, Nov. 29, 1941, eight days before the Arizona sank at
Pearl Harbor. From Day of Infamy, by Walter Lord, 1957.
"Among the really difficult problems of the world, [the Arab-Israeli
conflict is] one of the simplest and most manageable."
Walter Lippman, newspaper column, April 27, 1948.
"Reagan doesn't have the presidential look."
A United Artists executive, dismissing the suggestion that Ronald
Reagan be offered the starring role in the movie "The Best Man," 1964.
The "leisure society" has instead become a
society with increased feelings of lack of time. Declines in the average
workweek and in the labor force participation of males have been offset by
increased work among women. There are fewer children but more aged, family
relationships are complex and heightened consumer activity has added new
demands. The futurist Herman Kahn once said "This leisure society, it takes so
much time to manage it."
President Richard Nixon's famous remark "We are all Keynesian is now." came
just as the tide in economic thinking shifted to monetarism.
In May 1929, leading business cycle economist
Wesley C. Mitchell wrote: "Business Cycles have not been 'ironed out' in the
United States ...But the amplitude of cyclical fluctuations has been reduced."
A depression in United States was widely
predicted after World War II but instead there was in economic boom. (Montgomery
Ward bet on the depression. Sears bet on the boom.)
Few anticipated the Third World debt crisis of
"You ain't goin' nowhere... son. You ought to go back to driving a
Jim Denny, Grand Ole Opry manager, firing Elvis Presley after one
performance, from an interview on Oct. 2, 1954.
There are many less well-known or less remembered
errors of omission and commission.
Sportscasters were completely surprised by
the rise of tennis star Pete Sampras.
Media watchers were astonished by the success
of the Weather Channel.
In 1993 and 1994 the U.S. Treasury
Department's staff rejected the notion of the euro as "fantasy".
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great scientist Norbert Wiener predicted in 1954 that by 1980 "work automation
would result in a depression that would make the 1930s depression appear trivial
The United States proceeded to have a rate of job creation that is the envy of
the industrial world.
hierarchy of myths, the paperless office ranks somewhere between a
cooperative bipartisan Congress and a Chicago Cubs World Series
Wayne Kawamoto, "A
Paper Trail to the Web," PC Computing (August, 1999), p.120.
We are still waiting for the "paperless office." New technologies have made
printing easier at the same time as they have advanced electronic storage, and
the demand for paper has grown.
We also are waiting for the "cashless society." Between 1973 in 1998 per
capita domestic holdings of dollars increased from $148 to $739 and rose even
after adjustment for inflation.
In the early 1980s, the U.S. Postal Service staff did a study of the future
of fax machines to determine if they would affect the demand for conventional
mail. They decided that fax machines would not grow into common use.
On nuclear energy:
Isaac Asimov was the leading science-fiction writer of his generation and
author of Spaceship Earth, which galvanized the environmental
movement. In a press conference only one week after the 1979 Three Mile
Island nuclear power plant disaster, he stated: "We will be building nuclear
power plants again in five years." No new nuclear plants have been built in
the U.S. since.
"The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a very poor kind of
thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of the
atom is talking moonshine."
Lord Rutherford, Nobel Laureate, after the first experimental
splitting of the atom in 1933.
"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will be
obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."
"The atomic bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert on
Admiral William Leahy
Notable statements include:
"[Man will never reach the moon] regardless of all future scientific
Dr. Lee DeForest, inventor of the Audion tube used to transmit radio
waves, quoted in The New York Times, February 25, 1957.
"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible,
commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility."
Dr. Lee DeForest
"Fooling around with alternating current, AC as we know it, is just a
waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever. It's too dangerous. Direct current
A discussion in the March 1949 issue of Popular Mechanics
forecast: "Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum
tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1000 vacuum
tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons.
And of course there's:
"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home."
Ken Olsen, President of Digital Equipment Corp., at the World Future
Society meeting in Boston, 1977, as quoted by David H. Ahl in a 1982
interview. [Note 2]
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In 1931 the editors
of The Viking Press put together a marvelous little book chronicling some of the
public statements of prominent figures leading up to the October 29, 1929 stock
market crash and in the early days of the great depression. Some of these are
outlook of the world today is for the greatest era of commercial expansion
in history. The rest of the world will become better customers."
Herbert Hoover, speech at San Francisco, July 27, 1928.
"Unemployment in the sense of distress is widely disappearing.... We in
America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before
in the history of any land."
Herbert Hoover, speech accepting the Republican nomination, Palo
Alto, CA, Aug. 11, 1928.
"Secretary Lamont and officials often Commerce Department today denied
rumors that a severe depression in business and industrial activity was
impending, which had been based on a mistaken interpretation of a review of
industrial and credit conditions issued earlier in the day by the Federal
The New York Times, Oct. 14, 1929.
"The fundamental business of the country, that is production and
distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis."
Herbert Hoover, statement to the press, Oct. 25, 1929.
"Conditions do not seem to foreshadow anything more formidable than an
arrest of stock activity and business prosperity like that in 1923.
Suggestions that the wiping out of paper profits will reduce the country's
real purchasing power seem far-fetched."
The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26, 1929.
"Believing that fundamental conditions of the country are sound and that
there is nothing in the business situation to warrant the destruction of
values that has taken place on the exchanges during the past week, my son
and I have for some days been purchasing sound common stocks. We are
continuing and will continue our purchases in substantial amounts at levels
which we believe represent sound investment values."
John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Oct. 30, 1929.
"There are no great failures nor are there likely to be."
Monthly Review, National City Bank, Dec. 2, 1929.
"Never before has American business been as firmly entrenched for
prosperity as it is today. Steel's three biggest customers, the automobile,
railroad and building industries, seem to me to justify a healthy outlook.
This great speculative era in Wall Street, in which stocks have crashed,
means nothing in the welfare of business. The same factories have the same
wheels turning. Values are unchanged. Wealth is beyond the quotations of
Wall Street. Wealth is founded in the industries of the nation and while
they are sound, common stocks may go up and stocks may go down, but the
nation will prosper.
Charles M. Schwab, Chairman of the Board, Bethlehem steel Corp.,
address before the Illinois Manufacturers Association, Chicago, Dec. 10,
"I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or
warrants pessimism. During the Winter months there may be some slackness or
unemployment but hardly more than at this season each year. I have every
confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the Spring and that
during the coming year the country will make steady progress."
Andrew W. Mellon, New Year's Day message, Jan. 1, 1930.
"Trade recovery now complete, President told. Business survey conference
reports industry has progressed by its own power. No stimulus needed.
Progress in all lines by the early spring is forecast."
New York Herald Tribune headline, Jan. 24, 1930.
"The psychological effect of stock market activities on business is, I
think, usually overemphasized.... I do not think that the fall in security
prices will itself cause any great curtailment in consumption,..."
E. H. H. Simmons, President, The New York Stock Exchange, Jan. 26,
"Business will be all right. I am not in the least pessimistic. You
notice that everybody is anxious to be at work; that is one of the
healthiest signs of the times. -- There is no such thing as overproduction.
Henry Ford, quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, July 31, 1930.
"The average man won't really do a day's work unless he is caught and
cannot get out of. There's plenty of work to do, if people would do it."
Henry Ford, quoted in The New York World-Telegram, March 18, 1931.
"With the exception of the difficulties that have arisen as a result of
the drastic deflation of commodity prices, the business horizon is clear....
we all know that the present period cannot long endure."
Richard Whitney, President of the New York Stock Exchange,
address before the Merchants Association, New York, Sept. 10, 1930.
"The country is not in good condition."
Calvin Coolidge, Jan. 20, 1931.
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