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Sunday 4 December 2016

Anton Savage: When it comes to economic calls, I'll take mine from a pharaoh not a PhD

A pharaoh making his predictions
A pharaoh making his predictions
A minion in Santry
Cloverhill Prison inmate on roof
Zayn Malik

So, we've got the fastest-growing economy in Europe, car sales are back to where they were in 2007 and house prices are climbing.

This dream is revealed to be God's plan - Egypt would have seven lean years followed by seven fat years.

Nameless pharaohs are not usually quoted in economics courses, but they should be. Because frankly the 'seven bad years, seven good years' theory, from the Book of Genesis, is a much better prediction that most of those we got from professional economists.

Doomed

Dozens of people with masters degrees - many with doctorates - told us Ireland was definitely going to get a second bailout, that we should leave the euro, that even if we didn't the currency was doomed, that house prices would never recover and that a generation was lost.

They could not have been more wrong. Just like the ones back in 2007 who bleated 'soft landing' could not have been more wrong.

Those poxy predictions don't undermine the credibility of those who make predictions thanks to a weird function of human thinking - survivor bias. It's a fancy term for our ability to focus on the successful and attempt to learn from them, even if their success was pure chance.

Imagine Croke Park full of people flipping coins. Statistically, with 80,000 people tossing 50 cent pieces at least one of them is going to get 10 heads in a row. If we ignore the other 79,999 people and focus exclusively on this guy, he'll look like a gifted genius, whereas in fact he's just the guy who got lucky.

Likewise, we tend to look at hugely successful entrepreneurs and say 'wow, what does this guy have that I can learn from?' At the same time we ignore the dozens of others who made similar plays and launched similar businesses only to fail miserably.

So we treat the statistically lucky as if they were objectively gifted.

In fact, a major industry exists providing platforms and summits at which the mega-lucky can network and lecture to help convince themselves survivor bias does not exist: "I'm not a statistic, I'm a genius. Now let me tell you how I became so wonderful."

So it is with economists. The ones who make accurate predictions stay in the public eye shouting: "I told you this would happen!". Meanwhile the ones who got it totally wrong quietly walk away from their mistakes.

Prediction

The overall effect of this tends to make us think that economists know what they're at: "Well, he got that last prediction right, so he clearly knows what he's talking about".

Maybe not. Maybe survivor bias makes us forget that a lot of people were predicting a lot of things and statistically someone had to be right. Maybe anonymous Egyptian kings are just as good as economists with PhDs.

So, I'm sticking with blind optimism, mild delusion and pharaohs from the Book of Genesis.

Behold - here comes seven years of great abundance upon the land of Ireland.

First Minions, next Transformers - Dublin could soon be under siege

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Balloons are brilliant marketing. In this modern age we hear so much about Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, flash-mobs and guerilla marketing, that we overlook the classics. Like huge inflatable cartoon characters.

It took a minion in Santry to remind us that the old techniques still work. The minion in question escaped from a fair, hurling its 40-foot inflatable body into the road and onto passing cars.

No-one was injured (hardly surprising, as it was an inflatable minion), but vast publicity was generated. So much publicity that the lesson everyone will have learned is - where possible - make sure your giant inflatable gets free at the earliest opportunity.

Inflatable

That lesson was first taught nearly 40 years ago when a huge inflatable pig escaped during the shoot for the cover of Pink Floyd's album Animals. The giant pig was supposed to be floating above Battersea power station, but broke free of its moorings and wafted into Heathrow airspace, causing major difficulties for the airport, before eventually touching down in a field.

The end result for Pink Floyd (after some difficult interactions with the police) was more publicity for their album than they could ever have hoped for. So much so that some cynics believed the pig was released on purpose just to get attention.

Obviously that was not the case. Nor was it the case with the runaway minion - but wouldn't it be brilliant if it did catch on as a marketing technique? Every time a movie came out, the country would be assaulted by giant balloon characters from the film?

If that happens the release of the next Transformers would be the single most exciting thing to happen to Dublin since the Vikings arrived.

 

Get the emergency drumstick, quick!

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The fact that prison rioters in Cloverhill (inset) were reportedly coaxed down from the roof last week with the offer of snackboxes raises so many new and wonderful possibilities in policing and justice.

Bank robbery turns into a siege? Whip out the spiceburgers. Terrorist threat in a major city? KFC family bucket. Peace process gets a bit wobbly? Cod and chips.

It's startling that it takes a prison riot to show us what we should already know - every crisis situation is improved with a take-away.

According to sources, the prison authorities offered food because the prisoners get tired, cold and hungry on the roof and the offer of chips gives them a reason to come down without losing face.

But we know the truth is simpler - whenever there's trouble, batter makes it better.

 

Flowers? It's time to man up, Zayn

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Zayn Malik (he used to be in One Direction - it's a boyband) has split from his girlfriend Perrie Edwards (she's in Little Mix - it's a girlband).

I realise that for some of us this matters greatly. But for the vast majority, we're still sketchy on who One Direction are (that nice lad from Mullingar is with them - they're doing fierce well in the States).

Anyway, I raise the split between Zayn (left) and Perrie (inset), both 22, because of how the former communicated that he was ok, but still emotionally tender.

He posted a picture of a cut-out lotus flower resting on a piano keyboard.

The phrase you're looking for is: 'Ah jaysus Zayn, get a grip. You're 22, and you ain't Byron. Please, man up.'

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