Anyone got a crystal ball?

With the deepening euro crisis, the slide back into recession in many developed countries and the slowing down of fast-growing developing countries, such as China and India, confidence is waning.

But just as pessimism increases, so too does uncertainty. The global economy is getting more and more difficult to forecast. So should economists give up trying to forecast? Should we rely on guesswork and hunch, or looking into crystal balls?

Bank of England representatives have been appearing before the Treasury Select Committee. And they have reiterated the consensus that things are getting more difficult to forecast. As Mervyn King said in his evidence:

There is just enormous uncertainty out there. I have no idea what is going to happen in the euro area.

And this uncertainty is making people cautious, which, in turn, damages recovery. As Dr King went on to say:

There is no doubt that with the additional uncertainty this year there’s evidence of people behaving in a very defensive way, being unwilling to invest and of course the most extreme example of that would be if we were to get to a liquidity trap where essentially the main assets people wanted to hold were claims on the central bank.

Part of the reason for the uncertainty about global growth prospects is uncertainty about what European leaders will decide about the future of the eurozone. Another is uncertainty about how people will respond to the uncertainty of others. But predicting how others will predict is very difficult as they will themselves be predicting what others will predict. This dilemma was observed by Keynes when observing how investors on the stock market behaved, all trying to predict what others will do, and is known as the Keynesian Beauty Contest dilemma (see also).

So are governments and central banks powerless to counteract the uncertainty and pessimism? Can they restore confidence and growth? Members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee believe that further action can be taken to stimulate aggregate demand. Further quantitative easing and cuts in interest rates could help as, according to Dr King, we are not yet in a liquidity trap.

UK Economic Outlook Uncertain Amid Euro Zone Crisis – BOE NASDAQ, Ilona Billington (26/6/12)
BOE King: UK Not In Liquidity Trap; No Limit On QE Market News International (26/6/12)
BOE King: Unity On Loose Policy; Not Half Way Through Crisis Market News International (26/6/12)
Full Text Of BOE MPC Dale At Treasury Select Committee Market News International (26/6/12)
Recovery still five years away, Mervyn King warns The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (26/6/12)
Governor pessimistic on recovery ShareCast, Michael Millar (26/6/12)
Bank’s King says ‘pessimistic’ about worsening economy BBC News (26/6/12)
UK economic outlook getting worse, warns Bank of England Guardian, Phillip Inman (26/6/12)


  1. Why is it worth economists forecasting, even if those forecasts rarely turn out to be totally accurate?
  2. Why is it particularly difficult in current circumstances to forecast the state of the macroeconomy 12 months hence – let alone in two or three years?
  3. In what ways is the global macroeconomic situation deteriorating? What can national governments do about it?
  4. What limits the effectiveness of government action to deal with the current situation?
  5. What is meant by the liquidity trap? Are we close to being in such a situation today?
  6. Explain what is meant by the Keynesian Beauty Contest? How is this relevant today in explaining economic uncertainty and the difficulty of forecasting the economy?