The Power of Foresight

Article excerpt

Thomas Jefferson believed that "history, by apprizing [people] of the past, will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations." For all those who base predictive power on knowledge of the past, Jefferson's proposition is conventional wisdom. But it need not be taken at face value, nor as the deepest statement on the making of predictions. By scrutiny of past predictions, it is testable--albeit perhaps uncomfortably for the many writers who have ventured forecasts of foreign affairs and to whom accountability might conjure a foreign feeling.

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This issue's innovative symposium, "Predicting the Present," reflects on predictions proffered in prior issues of the Harvard International Review. Now that time has proven these predictions right or wrong, we are demanding an explanation. Or, as we more charitably put it to our past authors, the symposium grants them the opportunity to evaluate not only their predictions but also, especially, the way in which they formed their analyses.

Were they right or wrong? What in their process of prediction made them so? What insights do these results yield for the formation of predictions, which policymakers and academics must do every day? These are the questions that inspired this symposium, and the answers constitute a novel voice in international discourse.

We scoured our archives and found six former predictions on a range of topics. Former Argentinean Minister of Finance Domingo Cavallo describes why, despite predictions of an impending Argentinean golden era in the early 1990s, Argentina underwent the largest economic collapse in recent history. …