Forecasters fizzle amid flameout

Experts failed to predict economic mess

NEW YORK — In difficult times like these, a lot of power resides in that curious species known as “the forecasters.” They’re the individuals who can tell us what business will be like in the next quarter, or the next year, and they inhabit every sector of the economy.

The trouble is they don’t know anything.

A professor at UC Berkeley, Philip Tetlock, tracked two decades of predictions by 284 experts and found that the experts scored only a tiny bit better than did random guesses. It made no difference whether the forecasters had doctorates or were bartenders, according to Nicholas D. Kristof, writing in the New York Times. Indeed, predictions by famous and celebrated experts scored the lowest.

It’s hard to think of a prominent forecaster who predicted our present economic mess. Indeed, given the succession of jolts, gloom has become downright fashionable in New York media circles. If you expect the worst, maybe you’ll become pain-proof.

So since the self-styled forecasters are so downbeat, I’m beginning to think that the recovery will proceed faster than expected. My favorite bartender has started buying stocks, and I trust him more than I do my favorite economist.

Fact vs. friction

Given the onrush of breaking news, TV news junkies on the surface seem to be turning to opinion (even hyperbole) over factual reporting. The shrill voices of MSNBC and Fox News seem to be drowning out the muted and meticulous reporting of CNN, at least in the most widely watched hours.

So will TV news become a sort of video version of the op-ed pages?

The basic facts are all too familiar: Bill O’Reilly continues to lead the pack, averaging 3.4 million viewers a night. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Keith Olbermann has come on strong but can’t resist a nightly anti-O’Reilly blast, and there is evidence of a distinct slide when Rachel Maddow commences her often-wonky perorations.

Amid all the clamor, CNN’s Jonathan Klein insists he’s happy with his network’s numbers. And CNN was in full action mode last week covering the hard news of London’s weird protests. Besides focusing on the long shots of crowds, CNN’s cameras were zeroing in on individual demonstrators, tracking their Twitter posts and anticipating their moves.

It’s refreshing, after all, when someone wants to tell you what’s actually happening, however surreal, rather than trying to explain the cosmos in one ideological soundbite.

B’way maintains its kick

Broadway’s numbers appear downright zestful compared with the rest of the economy, and the reason is … good shows. There’s no greater high than witnessing the sheer release of energy when an audience embraces a hit production.

Wander around Shubert Alley these days and you see the evidence. Audiences seem galvanized by the newest iteration of “Hair.” The revival of “West Side Story” is standing-room only. And one year after hitting Broadway, that amazing sleeper, “In the Heights,” still prompts adulation from packed audiences.

Broadway, it seems, doesn’t buy gloom and doom either.

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