One of the things you notice when you work with stakeholders on futures projects is that some professional cultures seem to find it harder to engage with than others. Economists in particular seem to find futures anathema. I’ve just stumbled on a plausible explanation as to why.
In his book The Ingenuity Gap, Thomas Homer-Dixon suggests four reasons why economists tend towards optimism about the future – and are maybe therefore sceptical about futures and futurists:
- They tend to focus only on the last couple of hundred years – historically a period of extraordinary economic development – and then project it forward
- They tend to look at highly aggregated top level statistics – and not the nuances within them (e.g. the number of hungry people in the world fell in the first half of the 1990s – this progress was concentrated.
- ‘Economic optimists’ downplay events and facts that raise serious questions about their worldview (this is a classic source of cognitive bias) – effectively disregarding ’emerging issues’
- And they “tend to regard markets, science and democracy as panaceas” – leading them to an uncritical view of how each of these functions.