The wrong kind of economics?

Business leaders and politicians pay a great deal of attention to economic forecasts. And yet these forecasts often turn out to be quite wrong. Very few economists predicted the banking crisis of 2008 and the subsequent credit crunch and recession. And the recently released 2010 Q4 growth figures for the UK economy, which showed a decline in real GDP of 0.5%, took most people by surprise.

What is more, forecasters often disagree. If, for example, you look at the forecasts made by various panel members for Consensus Forecasts, you can see the divergence between their various predictions.

So why is economic forecasting so unreliable? Is it the fault of economic models? Or are there too many unpredictable factors that can impact on economies – factors such as business and consumer confidence, or political events, or natural disasters, such as the recent floods in Australia, South Africa and Brazil? Will economic forecasting always be a very inexact science?

Davos 2011: Why do economists get it so wrong? BBC News, Tim Weber (27/1/11)
Popular Semi-Science Slate, Robert J. Shiller (24/1/11)
Fed Often Gets It Wrong In Its Forecasts on US Economy American Public Media, Justin Wolfers (26/1/11)
Don’t bet on economic forecasting CNBC, Jeff Cox (21/9/10)

Forecasts for the UK economy HM Treasury
Econ Stats: The Economic Statistics and Indicators Database Economy Watch (large database of worldwide annual statistics, including forecasts to 2015)
World Economic Outlook IMF (follow link in right-hand panel)
OECD Economic Outlook: Statistical Annex OECD
European Economic Forecasts European Commission, Economic and Financial Affairs DG


  1. For what reasons may economic forecasts turn out to be wrong?.
  2. To what extent is economic forecasting like weather forecasting? Which is harder and why?
  3. Wo what extent can the poor accuracy of economic forecasts be blamed on the application of the ‘wrong type of economics’?
  4. How much variation is there in the independent forecasts of the UK economy reported by the Treasury (see HM Treasury link above)?
  5. Using the HM Treasury link, compare the forecasts made of 2010 in January 2010 with those made of 2010 in January 2011. Attempt an explanation of the differences.