About the future

José I. Duarte Economist There is a sociologically interesting issue associated with the business of forecasting that so many specialists of the most varied hues practice: is reality actually something to take into account in their craft? About one year ago it was difficult to find analysts that disagreed with the then ‘normal’ (the trend for cliché is also a distinctive trait of the times). The sky was the limit, we were told, and to prove it there they were: the huge investments started or foreseen in Cotai. Then revenues started to dip, and we were told, with the same assurance, that it was a hiccup, nothing out of the ordinary. When ‘out of the ordinary’ could not be sustained anymore with a straight face, we were told that, yes, it is taking longer than expected but in a couple of months it will be business as usual again. Sure enough, there is seldom any effort to clarify or explain the reasons behind the previous miss. After all, one can have been wrong for good reasons. And so, claim after claim is produced and reproduced regardless of previous accuracy, as if past mistakes left no trace and we were all being reborn anew, without malice or memory, at every instance. Moreover, even when forecasters are correct – a dwindling occurrence lately – one seldom sees a forecast presented as the conclusion of a reasoning or as a likely outcome that is based on facts and defined assumptions. After all, one can be right for bad reasons or out of pure luck – just like I chose the ‘right’ number in the lottery. (Most readers would possibly be surprised by how many a guess is just that…) And yet, we seldom see the experts being challenged to justify their expectations. So, you think all will be over sometime, in this or that month, in two thousand something? Can you explain why? Do you expect the anti-corruption campaign to run out of steam by then? The VIP patrons and the junket operations will find new creative ways to transfer money? New sources of customers will materialise? The central government will once more turn a blind eye to the money flowing away for the sake of Macau? The UnionPay machines will return in force? And so on… Just like polls that don’t issue their methodologies and results should not be published without a big word of caution about their trustworthiness, neither should forecasts that are not supported by some kind of explanation about their underlying assumptions and models. At best, they are innocuous and will be shortly forgotten. At worst, they make pondered analysis more challenging, as they mostly add to the background noise. Of course, I’m under no illusions. All will be for the better – optimism sells, especially if underpinned by some kind of, often loosely defined, expertise in something. Time will prove me right – wait long enough and it will happen. Both ‘clichés’ provide reassurance, good newspaper headlines and media exposure – on the cheap.