Davos predictions: predictably wrong?

Monday, January 25, 2010; 12:00 AM

The masters of the universe who gather in Davos, Switzerland, each January aren't shy when it comes to making claims about the world and where it's headed. And this year's conference is likely to yield its share of confident predictions. But if previous years are any indication, Davos forecasts are somewhat unreliable. Here's a roundup of some of the worst predictions by Davos attendees.

1988: A Reagan administration official warned Post business columnist Hobart Rowen about how, with increased Japanese investment in the U.S., policy decisions might shift from Washington to Tokyo. "Then we will become merely the day-to-day managers."

1998: Scientists Kevin Warwick and Hugo de Garis predicted that sooner or later robots will take over the world and, Warwick added, will treat humans as pets.

2000: Goldman Sachs investment strategist Abby Joseph Cohen predicted that the S&P Index was set for a 10 percent gain that year. (It went on a downward slide.)

2001: Enron CEO Ken Lay declared that his company was a "21st century corporation." (Enron filed for bankruptcy that December; Lay was indicted for fraud in 2004 and found guilty in 2006.)

2003: Colin Powell: "Saddam should tell the truth, and tell the truth now. The more we wait, the more chance there is for this dictator with clear ties to terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, more time for him to pass a weapon, share a technology, or use these weapons again.... Saddam Hussein's hidden weapons of mass destruction are meant to intimidate Iraq's neighbors. These illegal weapons threaten international peace and security. These terrible weapons put millions of innocent people at risk."

2004: Bill Gates: "Two years from now, spam will be solved."

2006: The WEF's Global Risk Report assessed that Avian flu would pose a greater near-term threat than terrorism.

2008: Former Treasury Secretary John Snow predicted that any U.S. recession would be ''short and shallow.'' AIG vice chairman Jacob Frenkel predicted that the economic climate would improve by mid-2008. And Fred Bergsten, director of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, declared: "It is inconceivable -- repeat, inconceivable -- to get a world recession."

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