Another New Year, another new batch of predictions. Ronald Bailey, William Safire*, and a raft of NRO-niks have bravely made their forecasts. But what about those scenarios that no one is predicting — the ones that may be unlikely, but are not at all impossible? Things like…
An Economic Shock. The Wall Street Journal‘s panel of 60 economists is optimistic about 2007. So is Safire, who writes that the “Dow Jones industrials will… soar to 15,000 before ending the year around 14,000.” Bailey predicts that the “The price of a barrel of oil will fall below $50”; along similar lines, Safire predicts a “plunge in oil income” for Iran.
Let’s hope all that is true. But the global economy is dependent on unpredictable variables, from geopolitics to weather. A well-placed bomb in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela can cause instant pain at the pump, in turn stunting growth.
Galloping Dark Horses. Everyone assumes that we know, at minimum, the general contours of the presidential contest to come. Hillary Clinton’s dominance is foretold by Kathryn Jean Lopez (“The Dems will not escape Hillary Clinton”) and William Safire (“Year-end polls of likely primary voters will have in the lead among Democrats… Clinton”). Barack Obama will falter, if you believe Cliff May (“The Obama surge will fizzle”) and John J. Miller (“Obama will commit an embarrassing gaffe”); he’ll soar if you believe Bailey (“Obama will be the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. This will become clearer throughout 2007”). Miller and Safire both see McCain remaining the frontrunner on the Republican side.
But there’s always a chance that some below-the-radar candidate will suddenly and inexplicably catch a wave. Howard Dean is the obvious example from 2003, but there was also a boomlet that year for Wesley Clark. This year, it could be John Edwards or Mitt Romney or even (why not?) Joe Biden or Duncan Hunter. And here’s the kicker: There’s no reason to assume that the sudden frontrunners of 2007 will have any success in 2008.
An Iraq Breakthrough. Most people look at Iraq and, using the same prognostication technique that has worked in years past, more or less project forward from the current picture. Andrew Stuttaford believes “the war in Iraq will drag on with a clear resolution no more visible at the end of the year than the beginning.” John Derbyshire writes that “Iraqi Sunnis will become yet more reluctant to be ruled by Iraqi Shias; Iraqi Shias will become yet more reluctant to be ruled by Iraqi Sunnis; and partition will become the conventional wisdom.” Safire, the most boldly optimistic forecaster, predicts that “Iraq will be… on the road to shaky democracy with [the] insurgency weakening.”
No one is so bold as to predict that the war will take a dramatic turn one way or another — but it might. There are rumblings in Washington of a troop surge, and in Baghdad of a unified moderate government. Who knows? There may be nothing but disaster ahead, but it may also be a surprisingly happy new year.
Happy New Year.
*Though Safire is semi-retired, he still returns to the op-ed page at year’s end for his “Office Pool” column, something I overlooked last year.