A new year stretches before us, a swath of time still innocent of human folly. Yet if 2010 is like 2009, it won't be long before the calendar is splattered with more foul-ups and catastrophes, with the odd bit of good fortune occasionally tossed in.
The coming year looks especially murky, and my record as a prognosticator is miserable. Yet, here I go again with the annual predictions.
Remembrance of pratfalls past: At the end of 2007, I predicted the stock market, as measured by the Dow Jones average, would hit 15,000. I thought the two major-party presidential nominees would be Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. Oops.
Wasn't 2008 a fun year, what with the big panic on Wall Street and all? Boy, if you like excitement, it was riveting: In defiance of my prediction, the Dow closed at 8,776.39. What the hey, it's only your retirement. It's only your kid's college fund. Stop complaining and enjoy the ride.
I did a bit better in my guesses for 2009. I said the recession would finally end around mid-year and the Dow would finish around 10,000. Sure enough, the economy began growing again in the third quarter, albeit at an anemic 2.2 percent. And as I write, the Dow is around 10,400. I seem to have blundered into something akin to accuracy.
Now for some more pratfalls … I mean predictions.
The fragile recovery should pick up momentum in the first six months of 2010. Capital investment has fallen more than it did during the Great Depression, which suggests we could be in for a healthy snap-back.
Consumers are still on the ropes, but as economist Robert Barbera told The Wall Street Journal, the corporate sector is in excellent financial shape. Many companies have depleted inventories, and business purchases should pick up.
Housing will continue to slog through seemingly unending foreclosures, and home values will remain stagnant.
The stock market probably has another 10 percent to run, which should put it around 11,550. But after midyear, things begin to look ugly.
The Federal Reserve's program of buying mortgage securities, which has helped keep interest rates low, will end. Also ending will be a generous tax credit for homebuyers.
The public-sector revenue drought will continue. Some municipalities will default on their debt, and perhaps a state or two. A Treasury auction will go badly. The Federal Reserve will have to pick up the slack by buying spurned paper with money created out of thin air. Interest rates will spike.
If Murphy's law is still in effect, all this will occur about the time the spending from the stimulus runs out. That's when all the dark scenarios about a double-dip recession may become reality. Ever the optimist, I think the economy will falter, but we'll avoid a double dip.
Beyond our shores, the picture seems more grim. Countries financially on the edge, such as Dubai or Greece, will default or come close to it. The European Monetary Union — the countries that agreed to adopt the euro — will face its worst crisis but survive, barely.
Turmoil will continue in Iran, but the major props of the regime — the Revolutionary Guard and the motorcycle-riding Basij thugs — will hang tough. The existing regime will eventually fall but not in 2010.
Back in Washington, the Democrats will get their wish. Health care will pass — and next year they'll pay the price. The Dems will lose the House and keep the Senate, but they will no longer have enough strength to block a Republican filibuster. Result: Gridlock. Hooray!
Closer to home, Missouri voters will reflect the rightward-moving political tides. Roy Blunt will defeat Robin Carnahan in the race for U.S. Senate. In Kansas, the GOP will finally win back the House seat being vacated by Dennis Moore. Johnson County Republicans, fed up with the madness in Washington, will curb their customary fratricidal impulses.
Further out, the future seems brighter. As Joel Kotkin writes, this could be yet another American century. We're still an entrepreneurial hotbed, our energy resources are plentiful, most of our rivals will be in decline by 2030, we retain the edge in military hardware, we're an agricultural superpower, and we're unparalleled in our ability to absorb different races, religions and cultures, "an increasingly critical factor in maintaining global pre-eminence.
But first we have quite a mess to clean up. Happy New Year!