[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Dan Rosenheck, Host:
Economic forecasting is a tough business: most stock analysts have trouble predicting the earnings of the companies they cover over the next three months. That doesn’t seem to intimidate Daniel Altman, the author of “Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy.” The book’s dozen prognostications cover every corner of the planet and extend many decades into the future. Altman argues that he is able to take the long view by distinguishing day-to-day fluctuations from the “deep factors that really move the global economy,” such as cultural norms that go back millennia or the inevitable conflicts caused by colonialism. The boldest predictions in “Outrageous Fortunes” include the disintegration of the European Union and World Trade Organization, a premature slowdown in China’s economic growth, and climate change actually helping richer countries.
The first, most fundamental question posed by Altman’s book is whether it is possible to make forecasts on such a long time scale at all. For example, he contends that since Chinese culture is ill-suited to business innovation, the country will not be able to grow as fast as rivals with a more entrepreneurial spirit after it attains a certain level of development. But won’t the Chinese make more of an effort to promote innovation once it becomes necessary for them to continue their trajectory?
A follow-up question is how useful forecasts looking ahead this far in the future can be in practice. Altman writes that he hopes writing the book will affect the decisions its readers take. How do you think a politician or businessman or investor might act differently after looking into the author’s crystal ball?
Finally, the book is structured as 12 separate, stand-alone predictions in 12 different chapters. Is there any common thread tying them together? What can each forecast teach us about the others?
Dan Rosenheck edits The Economist’s website for coverage of the Americas, and regularly contributes articles to its foreign section. In 2009 and 2010, he served as the magazine’s bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and from 2004 through 2009 he worked as the publication’s correspondent in Argentina and Uruguay. Rosenheck also writes regularly on baseball statistics and economics for The New York Times, and has contributed to Slate, Boston Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Observer, and the Spanish-language edition of Vanity Fair, among other publications.