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I Predict Your Predictions Are Wrong

I Predict Your Predictions Are Wrong thumbnail

When confronted with disaster, believing that everything will change is all too easy. How is it possible to write poems after Auschwitz, to enjoy a Sunday stroll in Lower Manhattan following 9/11, or, indeed, to dine in restaurants after a pandemic kills hundreds of thousands of people in the span of a few cruel months?

In 1974, the sociologist Jib Fowles coined the term chronocentrism, “the belief that one’s own times are paramount, that other periods pale in comparison.” The past few weeks have, understandably, confronted us with an especially loud chorus of chronocentric voices claiming that we are on the cusp of unprecedented change. Academics, intellectuals, politicians, and entrepreneurs have made sweeping pronouncements about the transformations that the pandemic will spur.

After surveying a number of prominent economists and historians, The New York Times declared that we are about to witness the “end of the world economy as we know it.” Proclaiming the demise of the “neoliberal era,” one left-wing writer argued, “Whatever you might be thinking about the long-term impacts of the coronavirus epidemic, you’re probably not thinking big enough.” At Bloomberg View, a right-wing investor asserted that the pandemic is “driving the last nail into the coffin of the globalists.”

Yet other writers are claiming that our social lives will never go back to normal. Drawing from experiences in Wuhan, a psychologist has warned that some people may be so scarred by the pandemic that they will be too afraid to leave their home. Others predict the end of hugs or handshakes. According to The Economist, young people will engage less in casual sex. And reflecting on the impossibility of practicing social distancing in bars, Germany’s biggest magazine even announced “the end of the night.”

COVID-19 will undoubtedly cause some important shifts. But the sensationalist predictions that now dominate the world’s opinion pages are likely to be highly inaccurate. That the pandemic will radically alter the course of globalization is far from certain. And it almost certainly won’t stop people from enjoying an active social life—even at bars, parties, and restaurants.

In the last months of World War I, a novel virus sped around the world, infecting hundreds of millions of people. The 1918 influenza ultimately killed more than 50 million.

At the time, it must have seemed as though life could never go back to normal. Why would anyone ever again risk contracting a disease just to share a drink with friends or listen to some music?

But the devastation of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic was quickly followed by a manic flight into sociability. The Roaring Twenties saw a flowering of parties and concerts. The 1918 virus killed more people than the deadliest war humanity had hitherto experienced, but it did not reduce humanity’s determination to socialize.

Throughout history, humanity has, again and again, experienced pestilence. And though these bouts of infectious disease have had all kinds of long-lasting consequences—including, according to some historians, the abolition of serfdom in parts of Western Europe—they never stopped people from seeking out one another’s company.

Pandemics are not the only tragedies that demonstrate the human determination to congregate at all cost. In the 2000s, when suicide bombers regularly attacked cities such as Baghdad and Tel Aviv, people nevertheless insisted on going about their daily life. And when terrorism came to France, cafés and clubs did not lack for customers there either. The number of armed soldiers walking the streets of Paris may have gone up, but the number of patrons at the city’s dining establishments did not sink to nearly the same extent. (Similarly, plenty of countries that suffer from high levels of shootings or kidnappings, such as Brazil, Guatemala, or Mexico, nevertheless sustain a vibrant nightlife.)

No one can say how long the acute phase of this pandemic will last. But what is virtually certain is that its impact on the extent of human sociability will prove to be temporary. Five or 10 years from now, there will be about as many mass gatherings as there were before the coronavirus. Because we’re human.

Left: Precautions taken during the influenza pandemic of 1918. (Bettman / Getty) Right: A New York street cleaner wears a mask to check the spread of the influenza pandemic. “Better be ridiculous than dead” is the view of one official. (Bettman / Getty)

Predictions about the pandemic’s political and economic impact also seem off base. As a rule, they focus too much on the (perceived) irrationality of present realities, and too little on what would need to happen to put something better in place.

The pandemic, some argue, has shown the need for single-payer health care and demonstrated the lunacy of relying on a just-in-time manufacturing process that makes the global production of essential goods vulnerable to shocks in faraway countries.

But many institutions persist despite deep flaws because those who would benefit from change can’t work together effectively or agree on a replacement. Just about everybody agrees that the UN Security Council is, in its current form, incapable of keeping the peace in the world’s most imperiled regions, such as Syria. But because different governments have different visions of how the council should be reformed—and because those that have a permanent seat are reluctant to dilute their influence—the system keeps trudging along.

These same problems of collective action also make an abrupt end to globalization or neoliberalism unlikely. Let us suppose, for example, that the pandemic has shown that large companies would benefit from bringing production back to the United States, because they cannot rule out another global shock 10 or 30 or 50 years from now. Even companies that recognize long-term risks will continue to face stiff competition over prices in the short term. And if a move that reduces substantial risk down the road also increases the chances of losing a large number of customers right now, executives and shareholders are unlikely to pursue it.

Likewise, although the U.S.’s failure to deal adequately with this pandemic shows how depleted the country’s state capacity has become, big government won’t necessarily make a comeback. I, for one, think America ought to reinvest in institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But others are likely to take a different lesson from the pandemic: that government is simply incapable of doing a good job, for example.

Moral philosophers like to warn about the “natural fallacy”: Just because something is the case does not mean that it ought to be so. Similarly, those who make bold predictions about the future should beware the “predictive fallacy”: Just because current circumstances provide reason to think that something ought to be the case hardly means that it will be.

Baseball players wearing masks that they thought would keep them from getting the flu during the influenza pandemic of 1918 (Life Images Collection / Getty)

None of this is to suggest that the pandemic will leave the world completely unchanged. It may change in small yet significant ways; governments, for example, may push to expand capacity to produce more crucial goods domestically. Because these crucial goods make up only a tiny fraction of the overall economy, however, this would barely serve to slow—much less reverse—globalization.

The pandemic could also accelerate existing trends. In a recent article, Roberto Stefan Foa and I showed how authoritarian countries are, for the first time in more than a century, starting to rival the economic might of liberal democracies. As China now seemingly emerges from the worst effects of the pandemic, while many democracies still struggle to master it, power could shift away from democratic countries even more rapidly.

And I wouldn’t rule out truly historic transformations—just our ability to know what they will be. The Black Death did not lead to a weakening of feudalism because medieval masters recognized the irrationality of an economic system that left a huge portion of the population undernourished, then acted in a concerted manner to remedy that systemic failing. Rather, the death toll so depleted the pool of available laborers that serfs were put in a stronger bargaining position—a consequence that contemporaries, unsurprisingly, utterly failed to predict.

Growing up in Munich, I loved to visit a technology museum in the center of the city, with old cars, a giant ship, and a nightmare-inducing Faraday cage. A few times a day, a man would sit inside a metal container while his colleagues directed tens of thousands of volts of electricity in his direction, miraculously sparing him, even as a giant flash of lightning struck a few inches from my face. The exhibit I remember most vividly, however, was rather plain: a freestanding wall that represented the growth of the human population over the past millennia. Starting low, near the ground, it ascended more and more steeply as it approached the present.

Only at two points did the upward curve tarry: around the 14th century and again at the beginning of the 20th. The primary reason for the temporary declines in the world’s population, a sign explained, was pestilence: the Black Death and the 1918 flu pandemic. Even then, what struck me most about that wall was what it didn’t show. World War II and the Holocaust, in which much of my family perished, was invisible. So were many other disasters and diseases that I had learned about in school.

The coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy of historic magnitude. It may well be remembered as the most significant global event since the fall of the Soviet Union. I do not in any way mean to downplay either that magnitude or the suffering it will continue to cause for many years.

Even so, let’s avoid the temptation of chronocentrism. Sooner or later, this bout of pestilence will come to an end. Humanity will survive this pandemic. In its aftermath, as after so many other disasters, we will learn to thrive anew. And although the world we then inhabit will be different, it won’t be unrecognizable.

the atlantic



43 Comments on "I Predict Your Predictions Are Wrong"

  1. Richard Guenette on Thu, 21st May 2020 2:14 pm 

    Why does Trump always points the finger at other nations? He’s probably too afraid to look himself in the mirror.

  2. Abraham van Helsing on Thu, 21st May 2020 3:34 pm 

    Blair has been topped!

    https://summit.news/2020/05/21/non-eu-migration-to-uk-hits-highest-level-since-records-began-under-conservative-government/

    “Non-EU Migration to UK Hits Highest Level Since Records Began Under “Conservative” Government”

    ““Figures show an estimated 282,000 more non-EU citizens came to the UK than left in 2019, the highest since the information was first gathered in 1975,” reports BBC News.”

    B-b-but I thought that it was the EU that promoted third world immigration?!

    We have been lied to!

  3. Richard Guenette on Thu, 21st May 2020 3:39 pm 

    People should be paid to destroy all useless weapons (firearms, ammunition, explosives, drones etc.)

  4. Richard Guenette on Thu, 21st May 2020 3:46 pm 

    The people decide the fate of their nations, not the royals, mega-corporations, religious leaders and so on. We are One people, One world.

  5. whoa supremacist muzzies jerk i know some wrong when a pretty little white girl ran to a black man arms dead giveaway deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed giveaway my neighbor got big testicles because we see this dude everyday we ate riiiiiib with this dude on Thu, 21st May 2020 4:44 pm 

    Richard Guenette on Thu, 21st May 2020 3:39 pm

    People should be paid to destroy all useless weapons (firearms, ammunition, explosives, drones etc.)

    do away with bitter clingers? ain’t nothing wrong with bitter clingers, i love them all.

    i don’t think enjoying muzzie ck solves all of life’s problem.

    life, liberty, pursuit of happyness ™ and it means practice bitter clinging.

  6. Sissyfuss on Fri, 22nd May 2020 8:38 am 

    The Covid pandemic will go away but Limits to Growth is here to stay.

  7. Abraham van Helsing on Sun, 24th May 2020 2:47 am 

    By and large this pandemic could be a blessing in disguise as it disrupted BAU. There is cause for amazement that states around the world were so effective in dealing with the pandemic. There was also positive side from an environmental aspect: the Himalaya mountains were visible from more than 100 km, the waters in Venice were clear and filled with fish rather than poop from over-tourism. Stinking planes, cars and ocean cruisers were halted, airlines and tourist agencies will go bust, enabling emissions targets to be met. The energy transition will get a boost. Globalism was further discredited as borders were closed. And deep in their hearts many people preferred the lock-down and “working” from home over the daily commute and traffic jams. Working online will have become a habit.

  8. Abraham van Helsing on Sun, 24th May 2020 5:04 am 

    Cummings and Goings:

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8352057/Now-Tory-MPs-demand-head-Dominic-Cummings-Brexiteer-Steve-Baker-leads-backbench-anger.html

    “Now Tory MPs demand the head of Dominic Cummings: Top Brexiteer Steve Baker leads anger on backbenches and says Britain ‘can’t afford this nonsense’ over claims the maverick aide broke lock-down three times”

    British Rasputin, wild card and Brexit mastermind possibly went too far by ignoring the lock-down rules 3 times over and arrogantly refused to apologize afterwards. Now even fellow Brexiteers are wetting the knives for him to go.

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-8351063/Why-escape-Brussels-kowtow-Beijing-asks-former-Australian-prime-minister-TONY-ABBOTT.html

    “Your Aussie friends are baffled, Britain: Why escape from Brussels – only to kowtow to Beijing, asks former prime minister of Australia TONY ABBOTT”

    Of all 5 Anglo countries, Australia is probably the most pro-European, even pro-EU. Signs of that are the Eurovision song contest that is wildly popular in Australia. Now former pm and loose canon Tony Abbott is suddenly showing his fear for China (he should be fearful). I’m calling him a loose canon because of his unsteady geopolitical views. In April 2016 (before the Brexit referendum) he advised the British to stay and “save Europe”:

    https://tonyabbott.com.au/2016/04/britain-must-stay-and-save-europe-not-abandon-it/

    “BRITAIN MUST STAY AND SAVE EUROPE, NOT ABANDON IT”

    By the end of 2019 he urged Britain to “get Brexit done”, forget about Britain being “merely” a European province and pursue “global Britain”:

    https://www.news.com.au/finance/work/leaders/tony-abbott-urges-british-conservatives-to-push-through-with-brexit-in-london-speech/news-story/a64704f924ad2946c878d04856775b34

    “Tony Abbott urges British conservatives to push through with Brexit in London speech”

    And now he is backtracking AGAIN because of his fear for China.

  9. Abraham van Helsing on Sun, 24th May 2020 5:55 am 

    “60 days to save the British family farm: Tories rebel as Trade Secretary Liz Truss ‘plots to betray UK farmers’ for Trump deal that could see stores flooded with sub-standard imports”

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8351165/Tories-rebel-Trade-Secretary-Liz-Truss-plots-betray-UK-farmers-Trump-deal.html

    The Bill, which cleared the Commons earlier this month, is expected to become law within the next 60 days as the Government tries to rush it on to the statute book before the summer recess. An attempt by MPs to amend the Bill to stop the dumping of cheap, sub-standard products on UK markets was defeated by 328 votes to 277 – despite 22 Conservative MPs supporting the amendment.

    “Special relationship” is an idea that only exists in British heads. For the US, Britain is a useful idiot, an unsinkable aircraft carrier that can be used and has been used twice against continental Europe and whose empire was gleefully taken over after WW2 without much ceremony.

    Britain will soon find out that the upcoming no deal Brexit with Europe and the trade deal with America, will be diktats, exercised by large powers, inflicted on a medium-sized isolated power. In the EU, the UK at least had a say and could form soft-coalitions against others, without being bullied by anybody.

    Britain will be subjected by the US and forced into low standards of food quality and environment. And increased mass-immigration after Trump, when the Soros bunch will be back in business, to finish off whitey once and for all.

    That is something the Brexit heroes forgot to tell the British public, who fell for the 350 million/week Brexit bus illusions. Cool Britannia of the 2000s was the peak moment in post-war Britain. From there it will be down-hill only.

  10. JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:36 am 

    My depression is severe today so my socks and ID theft will be limited.

  11. More Lunatic Davy ID Theft on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:53 am 

    JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:36 am

  12. Severely Depressed Davy Sock on Sun, 24th May 2020 7:05 am 

    JuanP

  13. Abraham van Helsing on Sun, 24th May 2020 10:30 am 

    Massive bounce-back in Germany, economic expectations best since July 2015:

    https://www.zew.de/de/presse/pressearchiv/erneute-verbesserung-der-erwartungen/

    Most likely winners:

    https://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/corona-und-die-wirtschaft-das-grosse-corona-spiel-a-10384ae7-c981-40e3-aa4b-22e0cff09d8d

    China, Russia, Germany.

    Relative losers: France, southern Europe, US. Renewed fear for German economic hegemony.

  14. Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 12:36 pm 

    “Massive bounce-back in Germany, economic expectations best since July 2015:”

    More like massive nothingburger from the anglo derranged fool

    “Most likely winners:China, Russia, Germany.

    Relative losers: France, southern Europe, US. Renewed fear for German economic hegemony.”

    LMFAO AT THE FOOL

  15. Abraham van Helsing on Sun, 24th May 2020 3:17 pm 

    Name-calling, no arguments.
    That’s empire dave for you.

  16. Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 4:23 pm 

    Fool, posting a link is not an argument. Give some content that supports your Anglo derangement fantasy.

  17. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 24th May 2020 4:42 pm 

    “Corrupted by wealth & power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. They’ve got a set of Republican waiters on one side & a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen.”

    — Huey Long

  18. makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 5:36 pm 

    Davy, better a link to a real thought than the word salads you spew and no one reads. You are also guilty of cut and paste with no personal thought attached, which, again, no one reads. In fact, no one reads anything that begins with the Davy tag as it is all bullshit and lies. You are nothing but an arrogant hypocrite, similar to most red necks. LOL

  19. Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 5:47 pm 

    wads da madder old bat? You whine like a wounded animal. I have shown you the door so many times I can understand the sting of defeat you must feel. I know the next stupidity out of you is that you are in the land of eternal summer and the birds are singing crap. What a fucking idiot if there ever was one.

  20. More from the Lunatic on Sun, 24th May 2020 5:49 pm 

    Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 5:47 pm

  21. makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:12 pm 

    Looking in that mirror again Davy? Do you like that ugly, arrogant, deluded, brainwashed, uneducated, immature goat fucker that you see? You keep trying to put words in my mouth but have failed miserably for years as you have failed with everything else you try. Even farming that swamp you pretend to live on/in, or so you told us in the beginning.

    The new flu is moving into your area, I see, from the USMSM “news”. Maybe it will visit you, you sickly old fart, and take you down along with you terrorist Amerika. We should be so lucky.

    Another sunny Monday morning here in the land of eternal summer. ^_^

  22. WEHate JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:12 pm 

    More from the Lunatic on Sun, 24th May 2020 5:49 pm
    Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 5:47 pm

    He is such an imbecile

  23. Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:26 pm 

    You failed old bat. You said this virus ain’t shit and it was. You tried to blame it on the CIA and it is totally a Chinese fuck up. You represent what is stupid and lacking in the world. I have kick your ass routinely and this has you so upset. VICTORY!

  24. More from the Lunatic on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:57 pm 

    WEHate JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:12 pm

    Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:26 pm

  25. Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 6:59 pm 

    I failed. I said I am a big shit, and I am not. I tried to blame it on JuanP, and it is totally my fuck up. I represent what is stupid and lacking here in the PO.com world. I have had my ass kicked routinely and this has me so upset. HELPME!

  26. REAL Green on Sun, 24th May 2020 7:04 pm 

    So true Davy. So true.

  27. makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 7:16 pm 

    final ramadan bomathon score. muzzies did grate this year

    175 booms
    718 went to see muhammad the pedifiler

    thanks to supertard glenn roberts thereligionofpeace dot com

    everyone pls love supremacist muzzies and love supertard and his socks

  28. More from the Lunatic Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 7:25 pm 

    makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 7:16 pm

  29. makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 7:39 pm 

    Davy, the virus is a lot of lies and bullshit. There is no real numbers anywhere. Especially in the US.

    The hospitals there are being paid big bucks ($40,000+) for everyone they say died WITH the virus. The key word is WITH, not OF. No one knows how many dies solely OF the new virus and how many were actually tested positive after they died of heart failure, lung disease, etc.

    Even if 100,000 Amerikans died so far this year, OF the virus, that is only 40% of ONE month’s deaths in the US. Less than 8% of the five months of deaths so far this year. Not significant but disasterous to the economy and YOUR future, not mine.

    The US has Zero idea of how many are actually infected as less than 1% of the US population has been tested and most never will be. It is all a power grab by the elite who see their future resources being used up by the masses.

    But, believe what you want. It doesn’t change reality or the terrible future you have ahead of you there in the Amerikan gulag. I watch from the cheap seats near the new power, China, and laugh at you.

  30. makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:00 pm 

    BTW Davy: The reality is getting closer to your swamp…er…farm.

    “One man was shot several times inside his car in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood and later died at a hospital, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

    Another man was killed in separate shooting downtown that also left a man in critical condition. Police did not provide additional details on that shooting.

    Some of the other Sunday shootings include a man shot in the head who was in stable condition and four people who sought hospital treatment after yet another shooting.

    Sunday’s deaths come after two people were killed in separate shootings in the city within an hour on Saturday night. One of those shootings involved an adolescent boy who was shot in the chest by an acquaintance, according to police.”

    The riots are beginning in the US Police State. I suspect that it will be a very “HOT” summer for Amerikans under hose arrest. LOL

  31. makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:06 pm 

    Oops! ….under house arrest….but then they are being hosed also. LOL

    Ref for above quoted article:

    https://wtop.com/national/2020/05/2-dead-10-injured-in-multiple-st-louis-shootings/

  32. Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:06 pm 

    Makato, the virus brought the world to its knees and you dismissed it with your usual blindness. The medical facts are irrelevant. Stupid.

  33. Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:09 pm 

    Makato, a shooting in STL is meaningless to me. More stupidity from the old bat.

  34. REAL Green on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:17 pm 

    We just lost another debate again Davy.

    We do that a awefull lot.

  35. WEHate JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:20 pm 

    What debate juanPee?

  36. JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:21 pm 

    I am very depressed and crying

  37. More from the Lunatic on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:22 pm 

    WEHate JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:20 pm

    Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:06 pm

    Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:09 pm

    REAL Green on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:17 pm

  38. More from the Lunatic on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:26 pm 

    JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:21 pm

  39. JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:29 pm 

    Please God. Help me

  40. Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 9:28 pm 

    Stupid old bat. I am self-medicated and self-isolated fool. The China-virus cannot touch me due to my exceptional immunity. Unlike you, who will die alone in your stinky manilla condo that has no power or water while I lol at you.

  41. More from the Lunatic on Sun, 24th May 2020 9:36 pm 

    JuanP on Sun, 24th May 2020 8:29 pm

    Davy on Sun, 24th May 2020 9:28 pm

  42. makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 9:40 pm 

    Davy the corona virus was released by the “One Worlders” led by Bill Gate$, at specific locations (Wuhan China/New York City/Italy) to make their takeover possible.

    This isn’t a new virus. It was know about at least four years ago and is in several US labs worldwide. The whole process was in a “war game” sponsored by Bill Gate$ in October 2019, just before the real virus was released. The lock-down scenario was discussed in the EU several years ago and was prepared for this event.

    But then, you will never read this in the propaganda source, the USMSM. you can deny, but it changes nothing. You are just another brainwashed Amerikan idiot.

  43. makati1 on Sun, 24th May 2020 10:12 pm 

    “… I (Davy) am A self-medicated AND self-isolated fool.” (Isolation as no one wants to be near you. PHEW!)

    There! Corrected your post.

    BTW: I have not lived in Manila for over two years now. Getting senile?

    I live ~60 miles, as the crow flies, and at least three hours by motor vehicle on the road from Manila. I enjoy such things as fresh fish/shrimp/chicken/pork and beef, not to mention fruits and veggies year round, at reasonable prices. I bought a kilo (~2 pounds) of 6 inch local raised prawns yesterday AM that were still alive and it cost me all of $16.00. Last I checked they were over $20/lb in the US and probably frozen from China. LOL

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