True money stories from smart people: Can I borrow your crystal ball? Mine seems to be faulty

14 August 2017
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When we hear of Julius Caesar brushing aside the soothsayer who told him to “beware the Ides of March”, we think he was being dangerously rash. After all, didn’t he know his colleagues were waiting to do a Michael Gove on him… with real daggers?

No, because history (well, Shakespeare) only repeated the one accurate prediction he received that month.

We weren’t told that another prophet – YouGovnus – had just told Caesar that, according to his research, mid- March was looking like a massively auspicious time for visiting the Senate. Also IpsosMorius, having interviewed key lawmakers, had told him that he had a 90% approval rating and could push his agenda on any subject he liked for the next few weeks. No wonder the noble Roman thought his position was strong and stable.

Prophets have abounded in every age, but most of them got it wrong most of the time. Only a handful had a genuine hotline to the divine will – but they’re the only ones whose predictions made it through history.

Perhaps that is why we still cling to the belief that someone, somewhere can tell us what is going to happen before it does, even though if that were the case most bookies would go out of business and astrologer Russell Grant wouldn’t have his unshakeable reputation as a credible authority. Oh, hang on.

Nowadays, we think that technology and Big Data can do better than examining the shape of entrails on an altar, and it enrages us when it patently can’t.

As we’ve seen with the recent spate of elections and referendums, predicting anything is like nailing jelly to the wall. “We know nothing,” said veteran broadcaster Jon Snow as he opened Channel 4 News the night after the last election. So true.

But still, we consumers have come to expect to be told instantly what will happen today, tomorrow, even 50 years from now and when our professional pollsters and futurists get it wrong, we lambast them and declare we will never believe anything they say – until the next time they miraculously foresee what we wanted them to see.

So why did I agree to try to forecast the movements of sterling, oil prices, food prices, interest rates and inflation generally for a special ‘costs calculator’ on Comparethemarket.com? A lot of blood, sweat and ruined reputation went into creating it.

It seemed like a good idea to come up with a ‘best case’, ‘worst case’ and ‘likely’ set of scenarios for people’s main expenses over the next year, to give them an idea of what savings they will need to make to get by without slipping into the red. But then suddenly, in a fi t of overpaid-adviser-induced madness, Mrs May called an unnecessary and, in the end, complete dog’s dinner of an election.

Now all bets really are off. Will we have a soft Brexit or maybe no Brexit at all? Will we have a new Prime Minister and another election? Will Lord Buckethead sweep all before him, form a coalition with Mr Fishfinger and invade Brussels demanding curvy bananas? We just don’t know.

Suddenly, where experts were uncertain before, now they’re not even answering the phone. To paraphrase King Lear, “Whom the gods would make mad, they first get them to predict currency movements.” It’s a nightmare, I can tell you that.

So I apologise now if my predictions on that calculator don’t quite match your personal future reality, but at least I’ve given you three scenarios to work with.

One of them is bound to be right.

And here are a few predictions for the next 12 months that I can stand by right now:

  • The stock market will go up… and then down… and then up for a bit… and then down again… and then up and then… oh, you know.
  • Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall will take it in turns to be on Question Time every single week.
  • Everything will be too expensive – unless it’s something nice that we actually want, in which case it will either be “worth it” or “a good investment”.

Oh, and how can you ride the price rises that are likely to happen at least part of the time in the next year? My advice is to:

  • spend less;
  • earn more; and
  • get as much as you can for free.

There, at least that bit wasn’t hard. Who needs crystal balls anyway?

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