On economic forecasting as a ‘forlorn hope’

Forecasting the economy is not an easy job.

This morning, Charles Colgan, former chair of Maine’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission and a professor of public policy and management at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, gave his predictions for Maine’s economy in 2013 (you can read about his predictions here).

He began his presentation, however, by talking about how difficult forecasting the economy can be. Colgan compared his forecast to a “forlorn hope” — borrowing from British military vernacular the term for the doomed first wave of soldiers to storm a breach in the defender’s walls. Economic forecasting is inevitably a tricky job, one that carries a list of caveats and never comes with 100 percent guarantees, a fact Colgan admitted up front in his presentation.

“Some members of a forlorn hope survived, and I hope my forecast will,” he said.

Humbly admitting he’s botched the past several annual forecasts, Colgan compared himself to Charlie Brown, ever the optimist, who repeatedly tries to kick the football being held by his friend Lucy. As everyone knows, in this classic Peanuts sketch Charlie never gets to kick the ball. Each time, Lucy pulls it away at the last second, leaving Charlie Brown to comically fly through the air and fall on the ground with a dumbfounded look on his face.

“That’s pretty much my year as a forecaster,” Colgan said.

Lucy and the ball are the curve balls, like the fiscal cliff, that the economy has repeatedly thrown at economists.

But, like Charlie Brown, Colgan and other economists will continue to try to kick the ball, no matter how many times they end up on their back.

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Whit Richardson

About Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.