Foreign Policy Predictions

Daniel Drezner in his recent essay "Wonks Gone Wild" (Foreign Policy magazine online, 15 Jan 2021) writes:

A review of the worst predictions and most useful ideas of the past half-century reveals a few lessons for the readers of Foreign Policy. The first is that foreign-policy observers are a pessimistic lot. We are awash with doomsaying that has proved no more accurate than a cult member holding a sign declaring "The end is nigh" on the street corner. The second is that when examining trends within countries, the primary source of bad predictions is the fallacy of extrapolation: the belief that the future will be just like the present, only more so. The third is that the most useful ideas are not rooted in grand strategy or doctrine. Sometimes grand narratives get the big things right, but just as often they create cognitive blinders that make it difficult to recognize error. By contrast, small-bore ideas–grounded in concrete, specific, well-defined problems–have made the most tangible contributions to international affairs.

Drezner appropriately quotes Phil Tetlock:

Fifteen years ago, in his book Expert Political Judgment, the political scientist Philip Tetlock warned about the poor predictive ability of most political experts. The discipline's short-term predictive abilities are lackluster. Worse, the public tends to pay attention to the out-of-the-box prediction that proves correct. The problem is that these kinds of predictions also tend to be wrong more frequently. Tetlock later wrote that these conditions would create a ripe environment for charlatans: "The demand for accurate predictions is insatiable. Reliable suppliers are few and far between. And this gap between demand and supply creates opportunities for unscrupulous suppliers to fill the void by gulling desperate customers into thinking they are getting something no one else knows how to provide."

And as Drezner concludes, with self-referential humor:

The takeaway from all this is clear: To stand out, future foreign-policy observers will become less pessimistic and more concrete. Of course, I am making a prediction here. The odds are excellent that I am wrong.

(cf Expert Political Judgment (2010-05-13), Characteristics of Superforecasters (2015-11-21), Superforecasting (2016-02-21), ...) - ^z - 2021-01-18