My vas pokhoronim!” (“We will bury you”) – a phrase famously used by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1956 while addressing Western ambassadors in Moscow (who said diplomacy is dead!?).

While the capitalist West remains (more or less) intact today, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved – along with the Marxist ideology underpinning it – in 1991. We buried them.

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B0628-0015-035, Nikita S. Chruschtschow by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B0628-0015-035 / Heinz Junge / CC-BY-SA 3.0. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons

Of course, Khrushchev was merely parroting a central tenet of Marxism. Marx held that human history is a purely deterministic affair, characterised by the dynamics of class struggle. According to Marxism it is inevitable that capitalism will lead to crisis after crisis, tensions growing ever larger and more violent, until the global proletariat seize the means of production through revolution and usher in a new era of socialism as old capitalist structures wither away. So perhaps instead of poor Nikita there should be a picture of Marx up there?

Or perhaps not. Our system here at almanis only works for closed questions that are formulated in a certain way: they need to have a definite cut-off point in time, at which point the truth or falsity of any predictions become unambiguously known. Marx’s predictions, as failed as they look, never came with any definite timeframe. Marx could yet be vindicated. Khrushchev’s prediction also didn’t carry a timeframe, but it does imply conditions under which it could be falsified (which came to pass).

This brings us to a quite interesting aspect of what almanis is all about. Because it isn’t just about making forecasts in response to questions: learning which questions to ask, and formulating them in such a way as to maximise insight, is half of the challenge. We need skilled question-crafters as much as we do forecasters. We also need people who are good at framing narratives around the answers we get. And what makes for a good questioner or storyteller isn’t necessarily the same as what makes for a good forecaster. Marx himself is a good example of this: he was great at asking original and cutting questions about the economic structures surrounding him, and explaining the problems inherent in capitalism – he just wasn’t any good at predicting what it would all result in. We’d love to have Karl on board, just not as a forecaster!

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