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Fortune Tellers

The Story of America's First Economic Forecasters

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The period leading up to the Great Depression witnessed the rise of the economic forecasters, pioneers who sought to use the tools of science to predict the future, with the aim of profiting from their forecasts. This book chronicles the lives and careers of the men who defined this first wave of economic fortune tellers, men such as Roger Babson, Irving Fisher, John Moody, C. J. Bullock, and Warren Persons. They competed to sell their distinctive methods of prediction to investors and businesses, and thrived in the boom years that followed World War I. Yet, almost to a man, they failed to predict the devastating crash of 1929.

Walter Friedman paints vivid portraits of entrepreneurs who shared a belief that the rational world of numbers and reason could tame--or at least foresee--the irrational gyrations of the market. Despite their failures, this first generation of economic forecasters helped to make the prediction of economic trends a central economic activity, and shed light on the mechanics of financial markets by providing a range of statistics and information about individual firms. They also raised questions that are still relevant today. What is science and what is merely guesswork in forecasting? What motivates people to buy forecasts? Does the act of forecasting set in motion unforeseen events that can counteract the forecast made?

Masterful and compelling, Fortune Tellers highlights the risk and uncertainty that are inherent to capitalism itself.

From Publishers Weekly

Jan 27, 2014 – Friedman (Birth of a Salesman), a historian at Harvard Business School, delivers an account of the early days of economic forecasting that reveals how American's fiscal climate was once even murkier than it is today. He investigates men who struggled to understand the mysteries of the nation's economy like Roger Babson, Irving Fisher, John Moody, C.J. Bullock, Warren Persons, Wesley Mitchell, and Herbert Hoover. Theirs was an era of great experimentation, as is evidenced in the work of Fisher, who pushed for the implementation of mathematic and statistic considerations in economics, and Mitchell, co-founder of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Delving into the forecasters' backgrounds, Friedman examines the effects of tuberculosis on the careers of Babson, Fisher, and Persons, and finds humor in their personal lives—Fisher's associate Karl Karsten, for instance, wrote an unpublished work of speculative fiction called Horse in A Limousine. Friedman also catalogs these men's failures: Moody had to sell his Manual after the Panic of 1907, Fisher was mired in debt late in life, and Babson was the only forecaster whose prediction regarding the Great Crash proved accurate. Friedman has crafted an intriguing portrait of men feeling their way through the economic dark, a situation that feels all too familiar today. 28 halftones.
Fortune Tellers
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  • $13.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Economics
  • Published: Nov 28, 2013
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Seller: Princeton University Press
  • Print Length: 288 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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