Thursday, December 23, 2010

Predicting the Future

A new Stratfor study predicts that the Zetas will branch out and strengthen their position in Mexico's underworld in the coming months. Trying to figure out what's coming next is an irresistible game (see here for my own recent attempt), and it's a useful exercise insofar as it helps us hone our understanding of (for lack of a more articulate phrase) why things happen. But when it comes to the internal positioning of the drug trade, a hidden industry whose meanders are determined in large part by personal enmities and predilections of psychopaths, even predictions that turn out to be right seem more a product of luck than coherent analysis.

A good counter example is the outbreak of World War I. From Lords of Finance:
...Lord Esher would declare that "new economic factors clearly prove the inanity of war," and that the "commercial disaster, financial ruin and individual suffering" of a European war would be so great as to make it unthinkable. Lord Esher and Angell were right about the meager benefits and high costs of war. But trusting too much in the rationality of nations and seduced by the extraordinary economic achievements of the era...they totally misjudged that a war involving all the major European powers would break out.
So I'm cherry-picking an extreme case, but the point is that this is a case of governments, some of them democratic, that operate out in the open and telegraph their activities to the world (at least, relative to drug gangs). And even then, most everyone's crystal ball was completely wrong.

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