“I’m convinced that before the year 2000 is over, the first child will have been born on the moon.”
– Wernher von Braun, rocket engineer, January 1972
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
– Woody Allen
Ah, to be soothsayers – able to see into the murky future. Alas, we seem to have misplaced our crystal ball.
While many have made a lot of money in the fortune-telling business, there are only a few true “visionaries” whose powers of prediction end up being vindicated by history. (Two spring to mind: Tiresias and George Orwell.)
Even so, there are a couple of things we can say with certainty about tomorrow (and tomorrow’s tomorrow): 1) No one knows exactly what it will bring, and 2) Some people will try anything to get around that fact – deploying logic, polling, statistics and sophisticated models of varied design in an attempt to lift the veil shrouding future events.
We were reminded of this truism this week when we stumbled across a December 2007 Cayman Islands government policy brief that had been squirreled away in a drawer in a corner of our newsroom, titled “Population Scenarios: Past Trends and Future Possibilities.”
The brief, prepared by the late Philip Pedley, principal policy adviser for the chief secretary and the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, attempts to predict the population of Cayman through the year 2026.
We empathize with Mr. Pedley’s efforts. As he writes: “Few communities have seen their population grow at the rate experienced by Caymanians over the past generation.” An increase of 428 percent between 1970 and 2006, to be exact.
Would such unprecedented growth continue? Decrease? Increase? Those are important questions. How would the population of Cayman change in the next 20 years, and how could Cayman’s government try to prepare for it?
In his brief, the author freely admits the question cannot be answered “with any precision.” Then he proceeds to do his best. Using several scenarios – and over the course of 14 pages – he makes an informed prediction: Cayman will be home to a population by the year 2016 of between 64,000 and 95,000 people, ballooning to somewhere between 79,000 and 170,000 people by 2026.
That is quite a spread … but, as it turns out, perhaps not quite wide enough. As of December 2016, the total population of Cayman stood at 61,361, significantly below Mr. Pedley’s “minimal” scenario of 2 percent annual growth.
(Things Mr. Pedley did not – actually could not – foresee include the negative impact of the global recession, governmental policies that hamper inward migration, macroeconomic factors influencing the direction of financial services, etc.)
Mr. Pedley and the Cayman government are far from alone in trying to wrestle an uncertain future into some recognizable form. In fact, they have some prestigious company. Perhaps it’s just the “hurricane” season, but meteorologists immediately come to mind.
For all the data points and measurements they use to predict the paths of hurricanes (resulting in projected cones so encompassing, you wonder if they are just trying to make sure no one feels left out of the excitement), we sometimes wonder if the safest place to bunker down is smack in the projected “bull’s-eye” of the storm, three to five days out.
There are our leaders across the Atlantic. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron thought he was being awfully shrewd by calling for a referendum on Brexit. Not to be outdone, his successor Theresa May decided to call for a snap election – only for her Conservative government to narrowly escape the snapping jaws of an unpredictable electorate.
Then there are the professional political pollsters who cannot seem to locate the pulse of voters in either the U.S., U.K. or Europe, even on the eve of an election.
And do not even get us started on climate change, and the countless variables that will go into whether the average temperature of a thimbleful of water will be one-thousandth of a degree warmer or cooler 500 years from now ….
As the song goes, “Que será, será” – whatever will be, will be.