Mayor Willie Wilson and other predictions

Gazing into the media crystal ball is a sham, but we keep doing it anyway. 2022 was no different.

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Chicago mayoral candidate Dr. Willie Wilson

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Magazines pile up in my office, no matter how I try to glance at them. It was March before I got around to The Economist’s special year-end issue, “The World Ahead: 2022.” Given that the global order had just been rattled by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, I couldn’t help but immediately flip to the section on Russia to see how clearly the London-based magazine’s expert had seen trouble coming.

Short answer: not very.

Yes, the article had the promising print title “Russia’s battlegrounds.” But neither of the two projected fights involved actual warfare.

“One is elections,” wrote Arkady Ostrovsky, The Economist’s Russia editor. “The other is the freedom of the internet.” The story, which you can read online here, ended, “The war over the internet will define Russia’s near future.”

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If only. Then again, year-end predictions seldom come true, and it’s telling that a) the media keeps making them anyway, and b) people still read them and c) nobody seems to look back to see how poorly past prognostications worked out.

Grab any list from last year and the misfires are so wrong, they’re almost funny.

Forbes’ “Ten Predictions for 2022,” written by Adam Strauss, offered as a guide to help people invest money, at least began by admitting that augury is “tricky” and lowering the bar by adding “predictions can be fascinating and informative, even if many of them turn out not to occur.”

Which many did not. Not No. 6, Congress legalizing pot. Nor No. 8, “Cryptocurrency and blockchain applications continue to grow,” claiming that, “Bitcoin exits the year with a price above $50,000.” Try about a third of that: $17,757 in mid-December. I bet Forbes’ face-plant wasn’t so fascinating and informative for anyone who made investments based on its tea leaf-gazing.

Nor did No. 9 come true, Republicans taking control of the Senate. But most of the media botched that, the anticipated red tsunami turning out to be a pink splash. (At least I suggested, right before the midterm, there was hope the red wave wouldn’t come, since Brazil president and Trump manque Jair Bolsonaro got the boot in Brazil.)

A few things to keep in mind about predictions:

First, any that turn out are invariably ballyhooed as some kind of evidence of clear-eyed vision into the future. They’re not. What they are, in reality, are wild guesses that happened to turn out. If I say it’s going to snow on Feb. 22, 2023, and indeed it does snow, that doesn’t mean I have magic insight into the weather that day. That means I got lucky. You can put your chips on red, and if the wheel stops at red, you win. But that doesn’t mean you predicted it.

Second, the failure of predictions is a reminder of just how random life is. Three years ago, in the waning days of 2019, nobody but nobody had any clue that some novel coronavirus percolating in a bat in Wuhan, China, was about to bring the world to a screeching halt and kill a million Americans.

Finally, the fog of the present is so thick that we usually just assume the future will be like it, only more so. Land a few guys on the moon, and suddenly we’re colonizing Mars, even though we haven’t gotten there yet and probably never will. Cities were going to be these enormous megastructures, human hives where “dweller and workers in these buildings may go weeks without setting foot on the ground,” according to a 1939 prediction.

Now, of course, we’re all going to be working in isolation, sitting alone on the end of a pier, laptop on our knees, dangling our toes in the water.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg has some bold predictions for the new year.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg has some bold predictions for the new year.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Many predictions are no more than hopefulness. If I say that Joe Biden is going to announce he won’t run in 2023, that’s just me wishing he’ll do what Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t and quit when he’s ahead.

Anything can happen. If I said I’m looking forward to attending Willie Wilson’s inauguration as mayor of Chicago on May 15, 2023, just to see how the helicopter drop of 5,000 $20 bills over Millennium Park goes, that may sound like a joke now. It might not be so funny come April, and if you’re wondering how I knew it would happen, well, I just imagined what the worst possible outcome could be, and put my money on that.

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