Tuesday, January 01, 2019

It's time for the entry you've been waiting for all year (hopefully while doing other, more productive things in the meantime):  the annual ICBW predictions post.  As always, we begin by reviewing last year's predictions:

  • The long-awaited stock market crash and resulting recession (or at least one quarter of negative growth) will finally arrive this year.  The main market indices will end up below their levels of January 2017, thereby retroactively validating my prediction for this past year.  Real estate and oil prices will fall as well, although not by as much, since their markets aren't nearly as frothy.  And there will be no massive financial near-meltdown this time, since stock market asset ownership isn't particularly highly leveraged.
No recession, but the market is indeed down for the year.  The Case-Shiller real estate index peaked this summer and has been falling since, while oil prices are down substantially on the year.  Overall, not a bad performance (for once)...
  • In addition, blockchain-based monetary instruments will completely collapse, never to recover (although more bubbles in similarly worthless ad hoc quasi-currencies will no doubt occur at some point in the future).  Megan McArdle has written a nice pair of summaries of why Bitcoin and its imitators are doomed to fail, whether as payment systems or as currencies.  I would add only some history: these technologies are actually the hybrid offspring of two previous failed ones--anonymous "e-cash" of the 1980s and peer-to-peer ("P2P") distributed data storage systems of the 2000s.  Both of these predecessors fooled a shocking number of advocates into believing in the viability of systems whose only remotely plausible attraction was the promise of evading government regulation and law enforcement, and that are otherwise in every way inferior to more mainstream alternatives.  Blockchain-based currencies have merely followed in their footsteps.
Not sure if a two-thirds decline in Bitcoin prices over the course of 2018 (to less than a quarter of its peak early in the year) counts as a complete collapse, but the end is certainly impending.
  • Donald Trump's popularity will bounce around (or just below) the 40% level throughout the year, defying predictions of inevitable collapse but nevertheless staying well below the break-even point.  Parallel investigations into both the current and previous administrations' alleged interference with law enforcement investigations will result in either bombshell revelations of scandalous malfeasance or overhyped non-issues, depending on one's partisan allegiance; in any event, neither will generate consequences of any legal significance. However, a political consequence will be a massive defeat for the president's party in the November midterm elections, similar to those experienced by his predecessor:  Democrats will take both houses of Congress by small margins--gaining hugely in the House, and narrowly in the Senate despite having far more seats up for election in the latter chamber.  This will of course intensify legislative gridlock, which in any event will have existed since at least the first midterm election of the previous administration.  (A possible exception is an immigration compromise this year, in which a limited amnesty is traded for enhanced border enforcement.)
The GOP managed to keep the Senate, and even increase its holding by a couple of seats, and the possible immigration compromise was discussed, but ultimately failed to materialize.  Otherwise, this prediction held up pretty well.
  • The Iranian regime will suppress the domestic protests against it within weeks using ruthless violence, but the extent of the unrest will push the regime to restrain its foreign adventures somewhat in order to focus on internal security.  For example, the mop-up operations in Syria will continue and be largely complete by the end of the year, but the shift towards anti-Israel (and anti-Jordan) activity will be put off for this year at least.  Hamas, on the other hand, will try mightily to instigate conflict with Israel, without enough success to ignite another full-scale "grass-mowing" operation.
This one was strikingly on-the-mark, I'd say.
  • Meanwhile, North Korea will quickly fade back into irrelevant obscurity, as will the Jerusalem embassy move, which will make leisurely progress without being officially completed by the end of the year.  Instead, attention will shift to the conflict between Turkey and the various Kurdish entities along its borders, with the US increasingly aligning itself against an increasingly assertive, belligerent and anti-Western Turkey.
Donald Trump was the clear wildcard in this one--his affection for Turkey's Erdogan, reminiscent of his crush on Putin, has apparently motivated him to side against the US' traditional Kurdish allies.
  • Concern about academia will shift from its toxic politics and chaotic environment to its dire financial straits, as the economic downturn causes a collapse in enrollment, particularly at expensive private colleges, with alternatives such as community college, apprenticeship and online education beginning to look comparatively far more attractive to prospective students.
This trend has clearly begun, but as an annual prediction it may have been a bit premature.  Look for it to become more conspicuous in future years, though...
  • The NFL will experience a bounce-back season in the fall, with attendance and viewership recovering markedly despite (or perhaps partly because of) the difficult economic situation.
A rare spot-on prediction about popular culture...

And now for my guaranteed-predictable 2019 predictions:
  • The US economy will slow markedly starting in early-to-mid 2019, though not into recession territory.  The stock markets will continue to decline throughout the year, rallying late but not by enough to prevent an overall negative year.  Real estate prices will also continue their decline, but oil prices will rebound modestly from their recent lows.
  • President Trump's approval ratings will continue their stable modestly-underwater trend throughout 2019.  There will continue to be multiple non-stop investigations--this time including Congressional ones--of the president's activities, but they will result in no immediate legal jeopardy to the president himself, nor will he be impeached by the House of Representatives.  Numerous White House staffers and cabinet members will be investigated and prosecuted, however--including by politically ambitious state prosecutors unconnected with Congressional or Department of Justice investigations.
  • The frontrunners for the Democratic Party presidential nomination at the end of the year will be the most viable candidates from the party's "mainstream" (read:  minority) and "progressive" (read:  upper-class/would-be upper-class) wings.  Kamala Harris and Kirstin Gillibrand are the current favorites for these respective roles.
  • In Europe, "Hard Brexit"--without a negotiated deal--will come to pass, with far milder consequences than opponents are predicting.  As a result, British PM Theresa May will survive in office through 2019--partly out of Tory fear of the electorate, and partly out of the inability of her divided party (mirroring the pre-Trump US GOP's business/blue-collar split) to coalesce around an acceptable alternative.  Meanwhile, the EU will calm its many internal rebellions by acquiescing to greater immigration restrictions across the union.
  • Justin Trudeau will win a comfortable majority in the coming Canadian federal election.  (Canadians usually re-elect their prime ministers at least once if they don't completely screw up on the job.)  Likewise, Benjamin Netanyahu will win re-election and remain in office through 2019, although a corruption indictment will be delivered against him, and its resulting legal process will drag on through the year, hanging over his political career without actually ending it.
  • The combination of US withdrawal from Syria and increased Turkish intervention there to suppress the Syrian Kurds' territorial ambitions will turn the Syrian conflict into a Turkish-Iranian one, with the two would-be hegemons unable to work out an acceptable partition of the now-recolonized country.  Russia will recapitulate its historic rivalry with Turkey by siding with Iran, and the US will thus be pushed by its NATO commitments and geopolitical interests into siding with Turkey, despite the many tension-generating issues dividing the two countries (which may in turn be assuaged somewhat by this partnership).  Meanwhile, the US will reduce, if not eliminate, its involvement in Afghanistan, and refocus its energies on other geopolitical threats, such as China.
  • Louis CK's comeback will spark a minor explosion of politically incorrect comedy, as stand-up comedians escalate from complaining about politically driven constraints on their material to actively rebelling against them.  The change will mark a tipping point in cultural acceptance of leftist censorship, since comics are by nature conformist barometers of consensus opinion, rather than the daring vanguards of forbidden ideas they are often portrayed as being.  (Laughter, as I've explained in the past, is a product of comfort and reassurance--often following surprise and/or discomfort--and comics must therefore provide reassurance in their punchlines to succeed.  They do so, in most cases, by catering to audiences' consensus beliefs and prejudices.  Thus if comics feel confident in mocking and flouting the rules of political correctness, then rejection of those rules must have achieved a high threshold level of consensus among comedy audiences.)
As always, readers are enthusiastically invited to comment on these predictions, perhaps providing their own in response.  If yours turn out to be more correct than mine, then I promise to turn over all my earnings from this blog to you!