Letter: On Fortune Telling (2014)


To Jason, Good Health!

It is a tricky business predicting global risks.

The fortune-teller Jemima Packington from the city of Bath in England lobs asparagus spears in the air to predict the future. That makes her the world's only asparamancer. In January (2014), based on the pattern of the spears, she predicted that another country would defeat England in the World Cup, Middle Eastern politics would give rise to yet more turmoil, a musical super-group would split, and there would be some celebrity divorces. 

In contrast, after significant consultation and consideration, in January (2014), the World Economic Forum published its report on Global Risks for 2014. High on the risk indicators were the reemergence of fiscal crises in key economies, structurally high unemployment, water crises, and severe income disparity.

Six months later, both the asparamancer and the World Economic Forum have scored a couple of hits with issues already on the radar. But in an increasingly volatile environment, neither identified world-critical risks that blossomed later in the year. Instead, fragile states have crumpled, reopening critical stress lines – unidentified by forum or asparamancer.  

It is easy to be wise in retrospect, but we must not dismiss the business of predicting the future out of hand. While we might smile at Jemima Packington's efforts (although her guesses in 2014 were a bit vague - she claims to be "75-90 percent accurate with my predictions"), the considered and careful analysis by the World Economic Forum remains a sensible catalog of risks to peace and economic stability. But both are a stark reminder that the prediction of the future is an uncertain science.

I have been reviewing Jemima Packington's predictions (with a smile) and the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Publication (with a frown) in advance for a presentation to the ICCPM (International Centre for Complex Project Management) Australasia Forum conference. I look forward to talking with you there.



I am fond of the city of Bath - not only for its history but because strange and wonderful things happen there. For example, in the early days of the internet, Bath libraries briefly became key players in shaping the future.

This is one of a series of letters (2000-2020) that explores issues from slavery, law reform, deontic logic, plague and legal theory. Some were originally included in a legal text "Lessons" (2019) prepared for teaching legal theory to legal students. Others simply address or reflect on issues of the moment.

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