Crystal Ball Watch 2008

Every year I do my annual round-up of predictions for the coming year, some of which come true, many of which, well, do not. Last year’s predictions turned out to be less than accurate—let’s see how I did.


  • Hillary Clinton defeats Obama for the Democratic Nomination. She picks Mark Warner as her running mate. — Nope, instead Obama managed to run a better ground game, and buoyed by a synchophatic media, he took the nomination. Instead, Clinton gets to be Obama’s Secretary of State, where she will enjoy the Sisyphean task of trying to create peace in the Middle East rather than resurrecting her political career. It’s essentially like being exiled to Siberia for her.
  • She then narrowly loses to the Republican candidate (who is not Mike Huckabee). — Instead, Obama won by a convincing margin and an Electoral College blowout. But Huckabee was not the nominee, thankfully.
  • Sensing a weak field, Michael Bloomberg runs for the Presidency on a third-party ticket, picking CNN anchor Lou Dobbs — Chuck Hagel as his running mate. He barely registers in the polls, despite pouring millions of his own money into the race. Not even close. Apparently Bloomberg isn’t a dumb as I thought.
  • The Democrats retain control of Congress, but not be margins large enough to threaten vetos. Pelosi and Reid remain in control of their respective chambers, but end up being just as ineffectual as they have been over the last major year. Congress still does almost nothing throughout the year, and this Congress leaves with no major legislative achievements to its name. — The Democrats won’t get their veto-proof Senate majority, but this year was another GOP bloodbath. The Democrats have to lead now, however, and that will be more challenging for them. The only legislative “achievement” this year? A massively unpopular “bailout” bill that represents one of the biggest dangers to this Republic in decades. Congress is and will remain profoundly unpopular because of it.


  • Violence in Iraq remains sporadic, as US forces slowly withdraw. Iraq becomes less and less of a domestic political issue. Al-Qaeda attempts a Tet Offensive, but it is quickly crushed thanks to solid intelligence provided by Iraqi civilians. — I was correct on the first part, but al-Qaeda hasn’t been able to push back in Iraq. For all practical purposes, the “war” in Iraq is over, and our mission will be to train the Iraqi police, military, and government as best we can. President Obama seems like he will not precipitously withdraw from Iraq, and there’s no reason to. Gen. Petraeus and the U.S. military has done its job in Iraq. What’s sad is how little recognized their monumental achievement has been.
  • The center-right remains triumphant as Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Kevin Rudd, and Stephen Harper all work towards free market reforms in their respective countries to great popular acclaim. — For the most part, this is true. Stephen Harper’s problems in Canada may end up hurting the divided Canadian left more than him. The big problem is whether the financial crisis will lead to a dangerous expansion of government or the realization that the more control government has over industry, the more problems with one will harm the other.
  • The situation in Pakistan remains deeply unsettled, with Musharraf having only a tenuous hold on power. — Musharraf is out of power, and so far Pakistan has not yet exploded as some had feared. But it hangs on the knife’s edge, and if Pakistan collapses, the effects would be catastrophic.
  • Iran continues to rattle sabers, and continues to enrich uranium, while the Bush Administration tries to ratchet up diplomatic pressure—to no avail. — This was a sure bet. Iran has no reason not to rattle their sabers, because they know that no one has the stones to stop them. However, with oil price plummeting, it may be domestic turmoil that does what the rest of the world won’t.
  • The Annapolis Peace Conference accomplishes nothing as once again Israel offers concessions and the Palestinians end up being too divided to offer anything in return. — This was like predicting that the sun will rise in the East and set in the West.
  • China improves its image with the Beijing Olympics. — They did, but they remain a curious hybrid of free-market optimism and state-run oppression. China remains a country that is divided between the future and the past, and what is keeping that arrangement together is the entrepreneurial spirit of their people. They could be a superpower, or their country could collapse, and it’s hard to tell which way things will go. There is the potential for a major economic crisis in China this year, and the effects could be massive.


  • While the media continues to paint their picture of economic despair, the real story continues to be the “Goldilocks economy” of low unemployment, high economic growth, and steady wage growth. — Oh, how I wish that came true. While the first half of 2008 was relatively strong, the economic crisis of the last half was the beginning of a fundamental economic shift. What happens from here is anyone’s guess, but it seems likely to get worse before it gets better.
  • The sub-prime mortgage issue fades as the impact becomes more fully known. As the uncertainty fades, it becomes clear that the fears of recession were baseless. — I don’t think that the assumptions about the recession were right at that time (although there is some evidence that the recession did start around December of 2007), but there is little question we’re now in a recession. While everyone blames Bush, the real culprit is years of Washington and Wall Street engaging in an incestuous relationship—and both parties are guilty of that. We need to realize that in many cases regulation does not level the playing field, it tilts it.
  • Oil prices stabilize around $100/barrel. — Oil has fallen to around $40/barrel this month, which is probably too low. The equilibrium price is probably closer to $100, but right now the market is seeing a major collapse in demand. That means cheaper oil, and more hurt for petro-dictators like Chavez and Ahmadinejad. However, we can’t expect the prices to stay this low forever.


  • At MacWorld, Apple announces iTunes movie rentals – in HD, with a new Apple TV to match. They also announce an enhanced iPhone, an ultraportable MacBook with a flash-based hard drive and long battery life. Apple stock continues to climb. — This all turned out to be true. The MacBook Air is not quite the machine I imagined, but I love mine and think it’s the best built laptop I’ve ever bought.
  • However, Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 download store starts stealing some marketshare from iTunes. More studios embrace selling their music unencumbered by DRM, leading iTunes to abandon their FairPlay DRM on music by the end of the year. — Amazon’s store is still very nice, and Apple would love to ditch DRM, but the music labels are still resisting. The day the RIAA and the labels become irrelevant is rapidly approaching, however.
  • Despite blockbusters like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Star Trek, box office receipts decline both in number of tickets and dollars grossed as the price of high-def movie equipment declines. While movie ticket sales decline, sales of HDTVs, home theater setups, and HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players soar. HD-DVD players hit the $100 mark by the end of the year, meaning that HD-DVD adoption pulls away from Blu-Ray. — Star Trek was pushed back to next summer. HD-DVD lost the format war. But the larger point remains, movies are becoming more of a personal thing, and with the economic downturn, that’s going to be ever more of a factor next year.

Also, No Country for Old Men did win Best Picture, as it very well should have.

My predictions were widely off the mark in a year of phenomenal “change.” Obama’s surge, the economy’s collapse, and the aftereffects of both were currents that will carry us into a turbulent new year. But every new year is a turbulent one, and the assumptions we all make now may be as broken as the ones I made a year ago.

Later, my predictions for 2009, as well as an important announcement.