If the fall of the Soviet empire seemed predictable after the fact, however, almost no mainstream political scientist had seen it coming.
If the fall of the Soviet empire seemed predictable after the fact, however, almost no mainstream political scientist had seen it coming. The few exceptions were often the subject of ridicule. If political scientists couldn’t predict the downfall of the Soviet Union -perhaps the most important event in the latter half of the twentieth century- then what exactly were they good for?
Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology and political science, then at the University of California at Berkeley, was asking some of the same questions. As it happened, he had undertaken an ambitious and unprecedented experiment at the time of the USSR’s collapse. Beginning in 1987, Tetlock started collecting predictions from a broad array of experts in academia and government on a variety of topics in domestic politics, economics, and international relations.
Political experts had difficulty anticipating the USSR’s collapse, Tetlock found, because a prediction that not only forecast the regime’s demise but also understood the reasons for it required different strands of argument to be woven together. There was nothing inherently contradictory about these ideas, but they tended to emanate from people on different sides of the political spectrum, and scholars firmly entrenched in one ideological camp were unlikely to have embraced them both.
On the one hand, Gorbachev was clearly a major part of the story –his desire for reform had been sincere. Had Gorbachev chosen to become an accountant or a poet instead of entering politics, the Soviet Union might have survived at least a few years longer. Liberals were more likely to hold this sympathetic view of Gorbachev. Conservatives were less trusting of him, and some regarded his talk of glasnost as little more than posturing.
Conservatives, on the other hand, were more instinctually critical of communism. They were quicker to understand that the USSR’s economy was failing and that life was becoming increasingly difficult for the average citizen. As late as 1990, the CIA estimated -quite wrongly- that the Soviet Union’s GDP was about half that of the United States (on a per capita basis, tantamount to where stable democracies like South Korea and Portugal are today). In fact, more recent evidence has found that the Soviet economy –weakened by its long war with Afghanistan and the central government’s inattention to a variety of social problems- was roughly $1 trillion poorer than the CIA had thought and was shrinking by as much as 5 percent annually, with inflation well into the double digits.
Fuente: The Signal and the Noise. Nate Silver. The Penguin Press.New York.2012.