Punish the forecasters

June 1, 2000
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America faces some very unpleasant energy challenges. Consider some of the problems that confront us: an aging stock of generating capacity, a consistently rising demand for electricity, the failure of renewable energy sources to alleviate the problem, and — most ominous — our inability to wean ourselves from the unreliable OPEC oil suppliers.

The nation is also blessed with some very smart people to analyze these and other challenges and offer prescriptions. These are “big picture” people: authoritative, articulate, and eager to think expansively about the vast horizons of business, natural resources, and geopolitical trends.

These experts are also, alas, consistently wrong, as in the utterance by Barry Commoner published in the Oct. 9, 1980 New York Times. But this does not prevent them from continuing to pontificate, even in the face of their own horrible track records. In this contrarian world, the more inaccurate the forecast, the greater the credibility.

We therefore propose national legislation whose title tells it all: The National Experts’ Forecast Scorecard and Liability Act (NEFSLA). The Energy Department, a co-conspirator in much of the past erroneous forecasts, would, as a penance, be required to administer NEFSLA.

It’s a small-budget program, requiring only a handful of minimum-wage clerks to scan the media, books, and Internet for bad-news forecasts. The clerks would pay special attention to the New York Times, Fortune, Scientific American, and other gullible publications that have been so hospitable to the hysterics in the past.

For the punitive phase, the forecasts’ time horizons — months, years, decades — would come into play. The longer the horizon, the greater the penalties. The offending parties (you know who you are) would be fined, but lightly, on an ascending scale.

In addition to fines, NEFSLA envisions community service as a punishment. The guilty would be required to read to others in large groups from the works of Julian Simon, Peter Drucker, and other iconoclasts whose debunking of the various “crises” proved valid.

Just as generals are said to be always fighting the last war, the forecasters are fighting the last blip on the energy scene.

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