Could Anyone Estimate The Future?

Suppose in 1964 you were asked to project the future of the world 50 years later.

What are the chances you would have said:

  • GM will have been bankrupt
  • IBM will not be dominant
  • The American steel industry will be mostly gone.
  • Pittsburgh will be a tech center
  • Detroit will be bankrupt and half its size
  • Merrill Lynch Penner and Smith will be absorbed by a bank
  • AIDS
  • There is a nine year old in Seattle who will transform the computer software business and another nine year old in San Francisco who will transform music and telephones
  • Vinyl records will disappear
  • You will receive hundreds of television channels
  • Prices will be eight times higher.
  • Gold will cost 35 times more
  • Transistors will cost a miniscule amount
  • Most people will have tiny computers with more power and more memory than the total of all the computers in the world in 1964
  • Wired telephones will be nearly obsolete
  • Long distance will be free
  • Gay marriage
  • Smoking will become unacceptable
  • The USSR will disappear
  • China will take over manufacturing
  • Despite having won the last three Stanley Cups in a row, the Leafs will win just one more in the 50 years

Fifty years from now, what? What will 2064 look like?  Once we get there it will all be obvious but looking forward is impossible.  Looking forward even a short time is nearly impossible.  When the Berlin Wall opened on 9 November 1989 the two Germany’s began their merger.  I would be surprised if a single person in the CIA or the American State Department or anywhere else for that matter would have predicted the open gates even 30 days earlier.

All change is difficult and it is hard to know what tiny factor will tip from inaction to action.  That works both ways.  It is difficult to stop harmful things and it is just as hard to stop being good at something.  Turning around failing businesses is a problem and predicting that good businesses will fail is equally difficult.

Try not to rely on predictions for investing success.

Prediction is a fool’s game.  You reach your goals by following persistent tendencies over a long time.  Do not give up on established ideas before the new idea is proven.

Someone once went to Steinway and told Mr. Steinway that he had a better way to make pianos.  Steinway said, “We’ll try it.  Come back in 50 years and you can see how it worked out.”

Successful companies, dominating a market are not going to go away quickly.  You will have time to decide.  How hard would it be for someone to quickly put Proctor & Gamble out of business?  Businesses with big market share and a history of success are worth noticing.


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Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario. Contact:  

2 Comments on “Could Anyone Estimate The Future?

  1. The article was very interesting, but I wanted more.
    You need to write the next chapter.

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