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There are some forecasts their authors would rather forget.

Political, Social and Economic

Science and Technology

Oh Yeah?

Political, Social and Economic

overturnedcanoe.jpg (8981 bytes)The 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 communism.

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 the 1980s.


"You ain't goin' nowhere... son. You ought to go back to driving a truck."

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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Science and Technology

lightbulb.gif (1327 bytes)The 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 in comparison." [Note 1] The United States proceeded to have a rate of job creation that is the envy of the industrial world.

"In the hierarchy of myths, the paperless office ranks somewhere between a cooperative bipartisan Congress and a Chicago Cubs World Series victory."

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."

Albert Einstein

"The atomic bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert on explosives."

Admiral William Leahy

Notable statements include:

"[Man will never reach the moon] regardless of all future scientific advances."

Dr. Lee DeForest, inventor of the Audion tube used to transmit radio waves, quoted in The New York Times, February 25, 1957. [Note 3]

"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 is better."

Thomas Edison

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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Oh Yeah?

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 shared below.

downchart.gif (3729 bytes)"The 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 Reserve Board."

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, 1929.

"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, 1930.

"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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