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Cast of characters

My second comment on Niall Ferguson’s farewell article in his Sunday Times column, My crystal ball missed Brexit but got Donald Trump, 24 May 2020. The first comment, Dizzy with success, was blocked by the paper.


My yesterday’s comment was blocked. Were my few critical words unbearable for this unabashedly self-promoting article in the old, well-established paper?

Was my satirical take on Niall Ferguson’s prophetical prowess with Joseph V. Stalin’s ‘dizzy with success’ Pravda article of 2 March 1930 considered inappropriate? Was the editor concerned about possible violation of copyrights to Stalin’s words?

As a historian, Niall Ferguson is trying to write history of the future before it happens. In the old days person trying to predict the future course of events was futurist. Now they call themselves forecasters or superforecasters in apparent analogy to those predicting tomorrow’s 15pc chance of rain.

The difference between predicting tomorrow’s rain and next year’s events is that weather is not so directly influenced by newspaper articles as is the narrative about the present and the future. Political and economic forecasting in popular media and government agencies is not neutral.

Take a look at the second part of the word ‘forecast’: cast. As in ‘cast of characters’. Think: narrative. Participants of the narrative. Forecasting is shaping and guiding the public narrative. It promotes certain characters, elevating their status, and eliminates others. It is definitely not a neutral activity.

One good example is Niall Ferguson’s article in The Wall Street Journal, 19 November 2011, about Europe in 2021, which was published in a modified form in The Sunday Times on 27 November 2011. Both fictitious and real-life characters are featured in this text. Among them is Radek (Radosław) Sikorski, Ferguson’s friend from Oxford, who was trained by Communist intelligence. Ferguson writes ‘Poland, under the dynamic leadership of Radek Sikorski, the former foreign minister’. This is not forecasting. This is casting.

Finally, I leave the last two paragraphs of my yesterday’s comment unchanged.

On November 3, 2019, Niall Ferguson wrote lots of nonsense about the so-called ‘collapse of Communism’. The concept of the ‘collapse of Communism’ belongs to Communist mythology. Communism has not collapsed. It was a mere change of clothes and an exercise in redecoration.

Although he is not alone in being terribly wrong, being one of the many who are terribly wrong should not be an excuse.

@LechSBorkowski