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2016 Lesson Learned


The last week of each year is probably the most intellectually satisfying week of the year.  It forces introspection, because it is both retrospective and prospective – a retrospective look at the year-ending and a prospective look at the year-approaching.  It begs the question of what did you learn this year that will help next year?

For 2016, my love of and my distrust of numbers crystallized and clashed.  The increasing difficulty of pollsters is only one example.  They were wrong on the U.S. election.  They were wrong on the BREXIT vote in the UK.  Even the legendary bookmakers in London were wrong on both!  The conventional wisdom is that millennials are under-counted, since they have gone wireless and have no land lines for pollsters to call.  Certainly, that is part of the problem.  Another is the refusal of some to share their opinions, either distrusting the pollsters or protecting the sole privacy zone in today’s world, i.e., the space between their ears.

Republicans accuse Democrats of practicing “identity politics” or appealing to particular voter-blocs instead of appealing to all Americans.  Maybe?  Or maybe, there are 325 million individual voting blocs?  Maybe, Americans are just too self-isolated or too atomized to do more than ricochet off other atoms.

Polling is not the only business experiencing problems with numbers.  Public distrust of economic data has never been so high.  Few believe the data showing there is only minimal inflation.  The stage for this distrust was set by political parties, who didn’t like whatever the data suggested.  Conspiracy theories are always so easy to believe and so hard to disprove.  But, there is more to this distrust.

The conventional wisdom is that our techniques for economic measurement are based on an industrial economy, not an informational economy.  Maybe so, but the volatility of that data suggests an unstable relationship between the data of an industrial economy and that of an informational economy.  We are rapidly reaching the limits of direct measurement without continuous measurement.

For 2017, I will continue to study the numbers, because I love them.  However, because I also distrust them, I will rely more on ad hoc focus groups to form conclusions.  Now, what will 2017 teach us?

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