Confession about a failed forecast

Summary: Time to check the score for the FM website. 2,400 posts, 4.1 million pageviews, 28 thousands comments. Many forecasts, mostly accurate. One very important forecast that was very wrong.

A series about America

  1. Confession about a failed forecast
  2. A third try: The first step to reforming America
  3. The bad news about reform: time is our enemy

Content of this post

  1. Forecasts about many things
  2. A diagnosis of America
  3. For More Information

(1)  Forecasts about many things

Consider the predictions of the FM website. The accurate ones appear in the Past Predictions page; the wrong ones appear on the Smackdowns page. (ones with the wheel still spinning appear here). The record is remarkably good, mostly due to careful selection of experts on which to rely.  I should spend more time telling you about these successful predictions.

I don’t think much about the hits because the misses seem more important. Perhaps keeping track of failed analyses and obsessing about them accounts in part for the good overall score.  It makes me more careful about making predictions, and about their language (riddled with “perhaps”, “probably”, and “guesses”).

But there’s a larger story here. The accurate forecasts concern important subjects, such as outcomes of wars and onset of recessions. But these are less important than the subject of the big wrong call. I said that the Republic was dying — but the speed of the decay exceeds my worst nightmares. My descriptions of the Republic’s strengths were delusionally optimistic. My proposed reforms (listed below) now read like nonsense written by Dr. Pangloss.

Posts on the FM website typically consist of closely reasoned logic, lavishly supported (each takes hours to write). Many of the those posts about America were criticized by people who now look prescient. I replied at the time (and still believe) that many of those people appeared to have deep biases against the USA. Like Oldskpetic.


But the results have come in.  They were right; I was wrong.

Diagnosis of America

I have thought about the reason for this large error, and now see that it resulted from violation of my own analytical procedure.  How often  I stressed the importance of diagnosis!  To use a medical metaphor, forecasts of the illness’ course and successful treatment both build upon an accurate diagnosis. Yet I wrote forecasts and recommendations knowing that I lacked an adequate explanation for the causes and nature of the Republic’s illness.

Only slowly has my thinking converged in the past year upon an answer that matches the facts.  It explains much that happened since 9-11, and allows forecasts of the future (allowing its validation or disproof).

Unfortunately that answer is so dark as to shake my soul.

Tuesday’s post will discuss this diagnosis, and a possible path to a cure.

For More Information…

…see these FM Reference Pages

(a)  Cheerful news:

(b)  Less cheerful news:

(c)  Analysis about ways to reform America; these still look good:

  1. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
  2. Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008 — Part One.
  3. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008 — Part Two.
  4. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008 — Part Three.
  5. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
  6. The first step on the road to America’s reform, 29 May 2009
  7. Correction to my previous posts – not all citizen activism is good…, 16 October 2009
  8. The first step to reforming America (the final version), 7 December 2009
  9. The project to reform America: a matter for science, or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  10. How do protests like the TP and OWS differ from effective political action?, 26 October 2011

(d)  These solutions now look delusionally optimistic:

  1. Light the fireworks – the campaign starts today!, 9 March 2010
  2. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
  3. The sure route to reforming America, 16 November 2010
  4. Fixing America in five steps, 19 October 2011
  5. Ask the mineshaft: how to make America angry and so awaken from our stupor, 11 March 2012



11 thoughts on “Confession about a failed forecast”

  1. For two years I read no blogs, newspapers, or other online commentary. (2011 & 2012).

    I came back at the beginning of 2013. Some things that happened in the those two years surprised me; others did not. Most interesting was the change in tone I found in many of the folks I had most closely followed before. I was struck by how weary the posts on this website now seemed to be.

    I suppose this explains why.

    1. Very perceptive.

      Hope is fuel. What happens when it runs dry? Especially for people taking no comfort in the afterlife?

      Redemption is always possible, for individuals and nations. It is an inherent aspect of the human condition. But that does not mean that the odds are sufficiently high to bet on — esp for outcomes during a lifetime.

      Progress will continue, for the US and, more broadly, for civilization (the world will find new leadership). We might just be in a “one step back” phase. But that might be painful, however brief. It might even be long.

      We can only guess at these things.

  2. The central question to me remains whether the “soft coup” by the U.S. military-police-surveillance-prison-torture complex since 9/11 represents a temporary condition, or state change to a permanent heavily militarized garrison state under effective martial law.

    There’s no question about the nature of the soft coup. American domestic policy now languishes under the effective control of the U.S. military-industrial-police-surveillance-prison-torture complex. Only such monies can be spent on domestic non-policing services as are left over from Pentagon and drug war and prison spending. In states like California, the two largest budget items are now prison spending and K-12 education, with K-12 education now falling behind.

    Clearly this represents a model for the American economy. The model involves a society in which everyone is either a prison inmate, a parolee, a prison guard, or a law enforcement employee (parole officer, jail intake officer, 911 dispatcher, police, etc.), or employed in some way by the U.S. military, either as a contractor or a military retiree or a member of the active military.

    Call it the “California model.” California has led the way in creating a state that is effectively a gulag with a nice ocean view, run by the prison guards’ union, and operating in an economy fueled primarily by military/DHS contracting and ancillary pro-military propaganda (Hollywood).

    You don’t need to look very hard at the California economic model to see that it isn’t working. As increasing numbers of people get sucked into the military-police-prison-surveillance-torture complex, the wind up damaged and/or unemployable. This lowers the tax base, while the ever-increasing amounts of military activity supporting the general economy lack the knock-on effects of conventional manufacturing and services industries, resulting in much lower overall GDP growth. This has resulted in a constantly escalating year-over-year state deficit in which the more taxes the California economy raises, the higher its annual deficits rise.

    Government military spending creates fewer jobs than spending on other sectors such as clean energy, health care and education, concludes a study from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute.

    The industry that creates the highest number of jobs per dollar spent by the goverment turns out to be education, which California is slashing at a record rate. See “Study finds california now spending more on prison than colleges.”

    As the California economic model gets deployed across America, the results are not hard to deduce. Declining GDP growth (because military spending creates fewer jobs per dollar than any other kind of spending), a shrinking middle class (due to the voracious appetite of the prison-industrial complex for prisoners, leading to the criminalization of ever larger numbers of innocent activities), a collapsing tax base (government military-prison-surveillance spending can’t skyrocket indefinitely if the middle class is melting away and no longer provides taxes to support it), mushrooming deficits (to continue military spending, America must borrow increasing amounts of money), and a descent into a militarized garrison state where most of the jobs and most of the forms of entertainment and most of the service industries and most of the wealth in society comes from serving the military and the heavily militarized police).

    This is what we’re seeing now. As America pursues the California economic model, we observe de facto martial law situations like the recent citywide lockdown in Boston becoming the norm. See “The military quietly grants itself te power to police the streets without local or state consent,” 22 May 2013. This leads to a situation in which civilians are no longer in actual control of foreign or domestic policy: see “Owned by the army: has the president lost control of his generals?” Harpers magazine, May 2011.

    The overriding question now is whether this situation is temporary, or a portent of a permanent change in American society.

    In 1798 Jefferson wrote:

    A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt… And if we feel their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.
    –Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Taylor, June 4, 1798.

    We can always hope. The crucial question involves whether the American people have been corrupted into such laziness and cowardice that they prefer other institutions (the mlitary, the police, prison guard unions, paid mouthpieces for the billionaires) to do the hard work of governing America for them. Are the American people eloi, willing to let morlocks lead them? Or do they prefer the bitter and arduous path of acting like free citizens?

    Time will tell.

    1. All interesting points, as usual! I’m writing now, and can note one almost trivial point:

      “Are the American people eloi, willing to let morlocks lead them”

      I like the analogy! But we’re not Eloi. Our opponents are not Morlocks. On the other hand, my reluctance to support such overstatement probably disqualifies me as a political organizer. On this world, at least. Perhaps demonizing enemies will be necessary to gain popular support.



      From the Ongoing Worlds blog

    2. What you call the “California model” has quite some resemblance to Brejnevian USSR: increasing proportion of national income devoted to the military — the last institution that “really worked” –, education important and absorbing still considerable resources but experiencing increasing shortages and difficulties, world-class technological strengths diverted to military applications while the economy steadily crumbles, a costly and bloody adventure in Afghanistan, widespread disenchantment — oh, and many movies glorifying the Soviet army.

      1. interesting observations!

        Another historical analogy to America’s current trends: we are becoming like Prussia. High inequality. The military the most respected institution, and taking a high fraction of resources relative to that in other nations. Foreign policy driven by use of military for largely imperial goals.

        Like all such analogies, it is suggestive rather than exact. But disturbing.

  3. It’s my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconstancy is my very essence,’ says the wheel. Rise up on my spokes if you like but don’t complain when you’re cast back down into the depths. Good time pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it’s also our hope. The worst of time, like the best, are always passing away.

  4. “Articles about torture and the failure of our wars — supported largely by government data — were opposed by believers in the honesty, competence, integrity and wisdom of the military. The more government sources I cited, the stronger the rebuttal. Continued discussion led to more personal attacks, wilder logic, more intense reliance on hope over fact.”

    That’s been a psychology research insight since the 1960’s.

    “Overconfidence in Case Study Judgements”, Stuart Oskamp, Journal f Consulting Psychology, 1965

    1. Thanks for the interest and relevant cite.

      It seems odd to me that people supporting the government do not believe government data and analysis, and people sending science do not believe (or even want to see) scientific data when it contradicts their beliefs.

      They have their beliefs, eagerly read propaganda that supports it, and that is all.

    2. At times I write a blog post, believing that I made a fine and conclusive argument. Only to see several comments the next day which make me wonder if these commenters read the text at all. All they did (at times) was to recount their previously and still-held opinion, in stark conflict with whatever evidence or reasoning I provided.

      It’s human nature. We are limited in our cognitive abilities, and we are all affected, without exception. We can possibly limit the damage with education and self-discipline, but that’s doubtful.

      We CAN look out for people who deliberately exploit this human limitation for unfair and possibly harmful politics in government and other organisations, though. And then we can fight them and the structures they rely upon.

      1. Nicely said! That is exactly my impression!

        I write about climate, for example showing how an article in Mother Jones exaggerates or even contradicts findings of the IPCC and body of peer-reviewed literature. The response is a rebuttal all edging that I “deny” global warming etc.

        I point out that I in fact said the opposite, and am using consensus science. More fevered denouncement.

        One reader wrote that he was “disappointed” that I cited scientists conclusions that anthropogenic factors began to dominate warming only after WW2 — because he had a “notion” otherwise. When I explained that this made little sense, the result was the usual.

        Since Americans applaud what they agree with, and are mostly unable to defend it — having come to so rely on propaganda that they’ve often lost the capacity for thought — what is the point of debate?

        Two notes:

        These things are often on the edge of the known, and can be debated. That is why I write with such great emphasis on uncertainty of facts, analysis, and conclusions.

        We are talking about intelligent educated people. That is why this is so sad.

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