Over time, many of the wisest prognosticators have gotten their predictions horribly wrong.
1876 – This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered a means of communication – the device is inherently of no value to us. – Western Union
1883 – X-rays will prove to be a hoax. – Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society
1932 – There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean the atom would have to be shattered at will. …. – Albert Einstein
1943 – I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. – Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM
1962 – We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out. – Decca Records, explaining why they declined to sign The Beatles.
There are many – not by wild speculators, but by people who are ‘in the know,’ who ought to know – but they don’t.
Some of our most ubiquitous and fortune building businesses were scoffed at, but fortunately, those people persevered, so we have the scientific and business innovations, the products and services we all rely on ~ and once they were just someone’s goofy idea.
So, who will figure out COVID-19?
Someone will develop a treatment, someone will come up with a vaccine – and someone will accidentally develop other new products, services, or ways of doing things.
I’m happily reminded of how a clinical trial of a heart drug didn’t go so well, but a clerk tallying the return of excess medication noticed that men weren’t returning their surplus pills, and found that worth checking – and that drug became Viagra … which led to a multi-billion dollar/year industry.
I expect office buildings will continue to exist because they are built for the long term, but will we ‘office’ in the post-COVID future, the way we used to? The same can be asked of shopping, stores, and shopping malls, with retail already eroding market share to online retailers, when the post-COVID marketplace finds its sea-legs.
And in terms of investments, few people consistently beat the market … because ‘the market’ in any commodity is the aggregated activity of many people doing transactions in real-time. It’s time for pause when Warren Buffett is sitting on the sidelines hoarding massive amounts of cash and not placing any bold bets …
Sometimes waiting, watching what people do, is the best way to predict the short-term future, looking at the past behavior of markets to guide predictions of future events without black-swan or volatility, causing one-off events.
Well, those days are gone.
2020 is gripped by this pandemic.
Nobody can put the toothpaste back in the tube.
This summer will see us redefining the true meaning of shut-in, in so many ways. Everyone yearns for ‘what was.’ Not because things were fantastic four months ago – not great, optimal, or worthy of being frozen in time – but because we were used to the way things were. Our enemy was an economic downturn, winter weather, and slippery sidewalks – and we knew spring would come. Oh, those were the days!
We would all welcome those troubles now because they seem so pale compared to dire predictions of where we’ll be economically and emotionally …
We were mostly all, mostly comfortable within our usual/typical circumstances, inside our comfort zone – yearning for predictability, reliability, ‘normal activities,’ and safety. Nobody has a crystal ball; however couched in words of ‘expert, economist, academic,’ nobody knows anything for sure.
And far less reliable in a real-time-world-wide-web of activity.
What will happen in the next 60 days, 90 days or a year, is entirely impossible to predict. Many will try, and some will get parts of it right.
The real world isn’t virtual.
And it is hardly virtuous.
It’s just real.
The roller-coaster ride this villain-virus is taking us on in terms of lifestyle and health-safety is tiny in magnitude compared to what it is doing to the global and local economies; the carnage of the great depression times might be surpassed.
No economist is capable of predicting the world on the other side of this pandemic – whether anything will have any value, whether demand and supply will ever balance.
Will we trade globally, or locally, will borders on maps move, will governments fail, will life on earth return to anything we recognize?
Will we be kinder, gentler, happier, and wiser?
Or will we be anguished and weary survivors?
I wonder what it was like to be an ancient Athenian, where everyone could go to one place to participate in full democracy – to ask questions, to speak, to vote …
Someday, technology might afford us that ubiquity – but I wonder how wisely we would handle a crisis, especially if all we had to do was ‘hit send’ or ‘tweet our answer’ without doing research first, without talking to experts first, without thinking things through first.