It is a well-known platitude: "Forecasts are always difficult, particularly when they have to do with the future." Some experts avoid prognostications for just that reason. But sometimes they hazard a guess, and then the fun starts. Because forecasts are truly interesting when they have to do with the past -- when you can compare them to what really happened.
SPIEGEL ONLINE has collected a handful of quotes that were uttered more or less exactly one year ago. Politicians, economists, CEOs -- in the spring of 2008, many of them talked about the developing financial crisis. Very few saw the true dimensions of the problem -- and many were woefully incorrect.
Admittedly, hindsight is 20-20. So comparing old quotes with today's reality is a bit unfair. As modern Germany's first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, used to snap: "What do I care what I said yesterday?"
Nevertheless, in the spring of 2008 it was growing apparent that the problems were larger than many had thought. The American real estate market had begun to collapse, problems with the subprime market were clear and a number of banks had started their devastating downward spiral -- even in Germany, where the lender IKB and the Saxony state bank Sachsen LB were fighting to survive.
In March 2008, the US bank Bear Stearns barely managed to avoid bankruptcy; it was saved in a last-second sale. The stock market reacted with a plunge, and panic started to spread. It was just a matter of time before the mega-disaster in the financial markets would begin to affect industry and drag the real economy down.
Some experts clearly saw what was coming, but they went unheeded. Most political leaders radiated optimism, like US President George W. Bush who said in March 2008: "One thing is for certain, we're in challenging times. But another thing is certain: We've taken strong, decisive action. ... The United States is on top of the situation."
US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson likewise played down the danger, saying that "periods of financial market stress seem to occur every five to 10 years." And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "the outlook for the 2008 budget is excellent."
A number of highly respected economists also missed the severity of the warning signs. "I'm not counting on any major effects on the German economic cycle," said Bert Rürup in March 2008 in his capacity as head of the committee that advises Berlin on economic matters. Just a few months later, the German economy slid into recession.
Central bank bosses, like Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank and Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve, also missed the boat. In early 2008, Trichet said that financial institutions in the euro zone were "in good shape." Soon governments across Europe were spending billions of euros to bail out banks.
Bernanke, for his part, said, "I don't expect any serious problems among the larger banks." That was before giants like Citigroup and Bank of America had to fall back on government help.
Still, some experts came out sounding like prophets, having correctly forecast the severity of the crisis. "I no longer believe in the self-healing powers of the market," said Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann in March 2008 in reference to the US. Of course, his institution had also declared the financial crisis over by then -- not quite accurately.
George Soros comes out looking better. "The situation is much more serious than any other financial crisis since the end of World War II," he said in January 2008. Former head of the Fed Alan Greenspan made a similar claim in March. Star investor Warren Buffet, though, wins the award for the most colorful prediction. "You only learn who has been swimming naked when the tide goes out," he said. "And what we are witnessing at some of our largest financial institutions is an ugly sight."