The WORST Predictions From History

The WORST Predictions From History

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It was a bitterly cold Monday morning in New York.  The year was drawing to a close in what would be   one of the worst ever years in the history of  the US stock market. The S&P 500 index was down   nearly 40%, the housing bubble had well and  truly burst, and there was mass unemployment   across the country. Things were looking bleak,  and there didn’t seem to be an end in sight. It was on this day that the Wall  Street Journal ran an article titled:   “As if Things Weren't Bad Enough,  Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S.”

In the article, the Journal looked at a 1998  prediction made by a Russian professor and   former KGB analyst, Igor Panarin.  He predicted that in the year 2010,   the United States would collapse. He even  detailed exactly how that collapse would play out.   The cause of this would be mass  immigration, economic decline,   and moral degradation — this would trigger  a civil war and the collapse of the dollar. Now, it’s quite a prediction to make  that the richest country in the world   will collapse. But that’s not what was so  ridiculous about this prediction. Rather,   the absurdity comes from the way in which  the collapse was supposed to happen. Panarin predicted that the US would  split into 6 different pieces:   4 new republics for the “lower 48”  states, plus Alaska and Hawaii,   all of which would either join or be under  heavy influence from a different outside entity.

Starting over on the West Coast, there was to  be the Californian Republic, in which the state   of California would form the nucleus, and  the surrounding states would just be okay   with joining for some reason. This new republic  would join China, or be under Chinese influence. Next, there would be the  Central North-American Republic,   a seemingly random collection of states  connected only by their proximity to   one another. This would become part of  Canada, or be under Canadian influence. Texans will be happy to know that there would be  a Texas Republic, which is made up of not only the   state itself, but also the surrounding states in  the South. This isn’t quite the independence Texas   nationalists dreamt of, though, as it would  join Mexico, or be under Mexican influence.

Finally for the lower 48, a collection of  eastern states would be organised into what would   be called Atlantic America and… “may join the  European Union''. Because why not at this point. That just leaves Alaska and Hawaii. Given that  this prediction was made by a Russian, and Alaska   used to be part of Russia, it’s probably obvious  what he thought the fate of this state would be.  

Hawaii would be a protectorate of China or Japan. Looking at this fantasy map, it’s almost hard  to decide which part of this scenario is the   most insane. The implication that either  Mexico or Canada would have enough power   or influence to just take or control a bunch of  US states; that China could control California   and all the surrounding states from across the  Pacific? But I think if I had to pick, it would   probably be the eastern states forming an Atlantic  alliance and considering joining the EU. What?

Even the part that might initially seem to  make the most sense - Alaska being returned   to Russia - actually doesn’t. The US purchased  Alaska from the Russian Emperor in 1867,   but it was only actually controlled  by Russia for less than 100 years,   and was never fully colonised. Very few Russians  ever actually lived there; and those that did,   left after the sale. Alaska is physically  close to Russia, but only to Siberia. Russia’s   power and influence is heavily concentrated  over on the European side of the country,   in and around Moscow. If anything, joining  Canada would likely make more sense for Alaska.

I could look more into the specific  reasons for why this prediction is so bad,   but even granting it such consideration would  be giving it more credit than it even deserves. Now, what’s arguably more ridiculous than  the prediction itself, is the very fact that   the Wall Street Journal actually ran an article  about it. A well-respected, American newspaper,   actually gave this prediction the time of day,  writing an entire full-page article about it. It   does offer a bit of an insight into how bad things  were during the height of the financial crisis   panic. Or perhaps it was just fear-mongering  to get more clicks and sell more papers.  

That’s not to say the Journal actually  implied this scenario was likely… although,   there was no comment on how  unlikely it was, either. It was this prediction that  inspired this whole video. Although,   as bad as it is, it’s far from the only terrible  prediction that’s been made throughout history. *** For the next one that we’ll look at,  let’s go more than 500 years back in time,   to the voyages of Christopher Columbus. The  main thing to look at here is not that Columbus  

wanted to sail west to India, nor that the  Spanish Crown initially rejected the voyage;   rather, it’s one of the reasons  why they rejected his request. With the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the  Ottoman Turks cut off the European trade route   to Asia along the highly profitable Silk Road  that had been used for more than a millennium. Enter Christopher Columbus who had a bright idea  - why not sail west to India. This was a bad idea,   and it was known at the time. Contrary to what  became a popular urban legend, Columbus did NOT   face resistance to his idea because everyone  at the time thought the world was flat.   All intellectuals knew the true shape  of the world from as early as 2000 BC.  

He faced resistance because he had significantly  underestimated the size of the Earth; its real   size was already well established, and  to a surprising degree of accuracy. Columbus went to Portugal with the idea to  try and get funding for the voyage, but the   Portuguese were content with taking the really  long route around the southern tip of Africa.   So he took his idea to the Spanish Crown  instead to see if he’d have better luck there.   Spain also, rightly, rejected Columbus at  first. Yet, of all the legitimate reasons   for the rejection, there was one that stood out  which couldn’t have been more wrong if it tried.

“So many centuries after the  Creation it is unlikely that   anyone could find hitherto  unknown lands of any value.” What makes this quote so ridiculous  is that it actually does acknowledge   the possibility that new land  could be discovered on a voyage,   but completely dismisses the  idea of it being of any value. Spain eventually did grant him funding, ships,   and a crew, mostly because they didn’t  want him to go to their rival, France;   and also it was figured that the risk was  minimal, but the potential reward was enormous. Columbus was promised 10% of all revenues from any  newly discovered land for the rest of his life.   After the discovery of the New  World, this 10% would have been   an unimaginable amount of money for  one man. Unfortunately for Columbus,  

when he demanded payment, the Crown  refused, and he died just 2 years later. The legacy of his voyages started what  became known as the Age of Discovery,   and competition over the Americas  between Spain, France, and Britain   was one of the main reasons for conflict  between the major European powers. This   was due to the incredible wealth that was  generated from the newly discovered land. *** Now, one section of history that is ripe   for a whole host of truly horrible predictions  relates to the time surrounding the World Wars. This next one comes from a famous  turn-of-the-century English author,   HG Wells. Although he was mostly known for his  fiction writing, at the outbreak of the First   World War he began writing non-fiction pieces  about the conflict. One of his books, composed  

of various newspaper articles written at the  beginning of the war, stands out in particular.   The book was titled “The War That Will End War”. Now, when you actually read the book and the  context beyond the title, it’s clear that   this wasn’t exactly a prediction, per se; it was  more of an idealistic view, rather than what he   genuinely thought would happen. His motivation  for writing seemed to be to inspire the young   soldiers being shipped off to fight in a brutal  war; a war in which many would never return. Still, it’s hard to overlook such a bold title  for a book while the whole world was at war.  

And while the book does contain some  actually pretty spot-on predictions   (especially to do with the future of  certain countries and territories),   there are definitely some passages that really  stand out with the benefit of hindsight. “This, the greatest of all wars, is not  just another war–it is the last war!” Wells portrayed this war as a fight against  German militarisation; a war that was being   fought for peace on earth - not just for  the present, but for the rest of time. Over the course of the war, the title of the  book evolved into a popular war-time phrase.   These days, the phrase is commonly presented  as “the war to end all wars”. Of course,   the longer the war went on, and  the worse the situation got,   the more that phrase turned from  inspirational to bitterly ironic. Even by 1918, some people still clung to that  phrase, though by that point it was less about   hope and more through desperation than anything  else. The so-called “Great War” led to so much  

death, destruction, and despair. It’s unimaginable  how awful it must have been for those who lived   through it, and especially for those who didn’t  make it; so it is perhaps understandable that   some might have tried to take solace in the  idea that, despite how bad things were… at   least it was for a good cause. Victory was the  light at the end of the tunnel, and if it could   just be achieved, the world could move on from  the horrors of war, and live in peace forever. The war to end all wars was, of course,  proven completely and utterly incorrect.   Just two decades after the Great War ended, an  even bloodier one would just be getting started… And this brings us onto our next prediction.

*** On the 30th of September,   1938, British Prime Minister Neville  Chamberlain’s plane touched down in London.   He had just returned from Germany, and was  greeted by a crowd of cheering citizens.   Chamberlain made a brief speech to the small  crowd, proudly showing off a piece of paper,   which had been signed by himself, and a certain  German chancellor who you might be familiar with… [Chamberlain] We regard the   agreement signed last night and  the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as   symbolic of the desire of our two peoples…  never to go to war with one another again! The agreement in question was called the  Munich Agreement, and is widely viewed   by historians as an act of appeasement  to the Nazi party and Hitler. In fact,   the Munich Agreement is probably THE most  quintessential example of appeasement.   Chamberlain and Hitler shaking hands is literally  the photo used in the Wikipedia article. For context about the agreement, Nazi  Germany had already annexed Austria,   without consequence or much reaction at  all from the international community.  

Hitler next set his eyes on Czechoslovakia.  There were some bordering parts of the country   which had a lot of ethnic Germans - this was  called the Sudetenland, and Hitler wanted it.  In a speech in Berlin, Hitler had  proclaimed that the Sudetenland   was "the last territorial demand I  have to make in Europe”. Seems legit.

Czechoslovakia wasn’t even invited to the  meeting which would decide the country’s   fate. It was Britain and France  negotiating with Germany and Italy.   Once the decision had been made that  Germany would annex the Sudetenland,   Czechoslovakia was heavily  pressured to accept the terms. The foreign minister of the country, Jan  Masaryk, had this to say about the agreement:  ‘If you have sacrificed my nation  to preserve the peace of the world,   I will be the first to applaud you. But  if not, gentlemen, God help your souls!’ Neville Chamberlain somewhat naively  referring to the Munich Agreement as   “peace for our time” would become  a horrible irony just 1 year later,   as the world was plunged into the  bloodiest war in all of human history. That agreement that Chamberlain  had so proudly showed off to the   cheering crowd turned out to be not  worth the paper it was written on. ***  Moving on, and unsurprisingly, one area where we  can find some really, really bad predictions is…   technology. Whether it’s predicting what’s  possible or impossible for the future,  

or how much of an impact a recent innovation  might have, there are countless examples of   well-respected, intelligent people who had  to eat their words. Sometimes literally. My favourite example comes from a 1903 newspaper  article in the New York Times. The title of the   article was “Flying Machines Which Do Not Fly”.  The article talked about the recent “fiasco”,   as they called it, by a man named Samuel Langley  in his attempt to build a flying machine. The Times article seemed to almost take  pleasure in the unsuccessful test flight   which spectacularly plunged into the Potomac  River. It went on to talk about how and why the  

“Langley flying machine” had been unsuccessful.  Though, rather than seeing the potential in his   design, the article compared Langley to  Icarus, who flew too close to the sun. The article then takes a strange turn by making a  somewhat odd comparison between human innovation   and evolution. By using birds as the example, the  author bizarrely conflates the two, and implies   that innovation would take significantly longer  than nature took for birds to be able to fly. “Hence, if it requires, say, a thousand years  to fit for easy flight a bird which started   with rudimentary wings, or ten thousand  for one which started with no wings at   all and had to sprout them ab initio, it  might be assumed that the flying machine   which will really fly might be evolved  by the combined and continuous efforts   of mathematicians and mechanicians in  from one million to ten million years” It may not have been by Langley, but two brothers  by the names of Orville and Wilbur Wright   completed the first ever successful flight in an  airplane. Somewhat ahead of schedule, I would say. *** Airplanes are   undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions of  all time. Though, an even better invention, one  

which allows you to watch this very video - the  internet, had plenty of sceptics back in the day. [Paxman] “It’s just a tool, though, isn’t it?” [Bowie] “No it’s not… no.  No, it’s an alien lifeform!” Many didn’t quite grasp its true potential,  while others dismissed it as something of a fad.  

While technically the internet  was “invented” in the 1960s,   it didn’t really become anything special  until the World Wide Web - which opened up   to the public in 1991. This was when the  internet’s full potential was unleashed. That’s what makes the following prediction all  the more embarrassing. It was made in 1998.   The prediction made by Nobel  prize-winning economist,   Paul Krugman, was that “By 2005  or so, it will become clear that   the Internet's impact on the economy has  been no greater than the fax machine's” For a long time, this quote had  actually been long forgotten. It   wasn’t until 2013 when it was dug up  and made the rounds on social media.  

At that time, Krugman wrote an article for the New  York Times titled “Bitcoin is evil”. As you can   probably imagine, 2013 Bitcoin enthusiasts  didn’t take too kindly to this article.   So someone must have found this quote from 1998,  and spread it around to undermine his credibility. In a follow-up article by Business Insider  which confronted Krugman on his prediction,   he attributed the quote to a New York  Times article in which he was looking   at the world from some distant future in an  alternate reality… or something like that. However, a Snopes article found that, actually,  the quote was from a site called Red Herring,   in an article that was, somewhat ironically,  titled Why most economists' predictions are wrong.  

Reading the quote in its full context, it’s clear  that it was very much a genuine prediction. When   Snopes confronted him about the mix-up he  replied by acknowledging the confusion,   then somewhat dismissively saying “Anyway,  I was clearly trying to be provocative,   and got it wrong, which happens  to all of us sometimes”. “I don’t even know what that means” “No one knows what it means but it’s provocative”  “No it’s not it’s–” “Gets the people going!” While the late 90s Internet was  a shell of the modern equivalent,   it was still quite capable compared to fax  machines. You could view newspaper articles,   communicate by email, look at funny pictures,  play basic games, download music, and…   other things. Sure, the Internet was  painfully slow, dial-up was still the norm,   and you had to make sure no-one else  needed to use the phone line. But still.  

Fax machines were always going to be limited  by what could be put on a piece of paper. The internet didn’t just have a monumental  impact on the economy, but on society as a whole,   and our very way of life. It is, arguably,  the greatest invention of all time.   Of course, this would have been  impossible to know for sure,   but for a Nobel-prize winning economist,  predictions made are going to be held to a   certain level of scrutiny above that of the  general population. And if, as he claims,   it was done purely to get a reaction out of  people, then that just seems rather irresponsible. Without a crystal ball, the future will always  remain a mystery until it becomes the present.   Getting a prediction spot on  can make you look like a genius,   but getting it horribly wrong… well, that’s  how you end up in a video like this one! If you want to avoid making terrible predictions  of your own, it helps to stay informed about   what’s going on in the world. You can do just  that with this video’s sponsor, Morning Brew.

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2022-11-04 03:16

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