Hindsight, the fabled retrospectoscope , wisdom after the event. They all make people an expert, especially when they’re…..not.
However, some people, who actually did foresee big, important things – usually bad, big, important things – do earn that highly prized gift, one that you cannot award to yourself – credibility.
For example, here, in 2002, is Niall Ferguson:
“What these figures tell us is that a new kind of distributional conflict is taking the place of the traditional class based model that dominated the twentieth century. In a sense, the welfare state was designed to end the old struggles between rentiers, entrepeneurs and workers, and largely succeeded in doing so. But the price of success was the creation of a system of universal entitlements that has become unaffordable. If the generational accounts are out of kilter – as they are in most of Europe, Japan and the United States – substantial future cuts in expenditure or increases in taxation are inevitable. In one scenario, the next generation ends up paying in higher taxes for the present generation’s pensions and other transfers, including interest on bonds (a large part of their private pensions). Alternatively, entitlements to the elderly end up being reduced – for example by a state cut in pensions, a default on government bonds, or a big and unanticipated increase in inflation – and the bill is handed back to the generation that incurred it years before”
…and there’s a lot more where that came from. Ferguson isn’t primarily making a political point – although his clearsightedness is diametrically opposite to the views pushed in that same period by Brown and Balls – he’s accurately predicting the future. That brief passage spells out today’s painful economic wrangles. My pension is being plundered, in part to pay for those of my colleagues 10-15 years older, who are all leaving in droves, on top whack.
So to me, Ferguson is very credible. Likewise, as Allister Heath pointed out a couple of months ago, there are still plenty of folk around who did predict the financial crisis, and in detail. The Knife identified a few more. Their views should be heard today, when planning what passes for economic policy wouldn’t you think?
All of which leads us to Syria. Forget the whole debacle of the invented reasons for invading Iraq, although in practice that is indeed a mistake we should learn from. Who is urging an attack on Syria?
Well there’s Tony: “‘It is time we took a side: the side of the people who want what we want; who see our societies for all their faults as something to admire; who know that they should not be faced with a choice between tyranny and theocracy.” The tyrant being the man on whom Tone was trying to bestow a knighthood.
Calling last week’s attack in Damascus “undeniable” and a “moral obscenity”, Mr Kerry suggested that the US possessed “additional information” to back up the allegation. While he indicated that he and President Barack Obama would continue to consult with allied nations on the best response, he left almost no margin for Washington to back away from taking punitive action. His words were also clearly meant to prepare the US public for military action.“What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality,” Mr Kerry said. “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians… is a moral obscenity.”
Two years ago, Kerry said of his dinner companion “Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the discussions we have had“, even though two years ago, it’s not as if Assad was an obvious good guy back then. Ask any Syrian expat. There’s lots of them about.
In fact Obama’s administration, through Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have been cosy with Assad for a long time.
Until now. What with Barack’s hilariously stupid “red lines”, leading to the blatant need to save face, despite the costs.
Back to the start of this post, credibility is reputation, and it’s precious. It’s what makes big difficult decisions workable, whether it’s in choosing risky surgery or starting a war.
Right now, all the people fulminating about Assad, and the need to bomb Syria or whatever, don’t have it. They are the dictionary definition of incredible: So implausible as to elicit disbelief.