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Fortune Tellers: The Story of America's First Economic Forecasters (Hardcover)

Walter A. Friedman

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ISBN 10: 0691159114 / ISBN 13: 9780691159119
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Hardcover. 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 profiti.Shipping may be from multiple locations in the US or from the UK, depending on stock availability. 273 pages. 0.531. Bookseller Inventory # 9780691159119

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Title: Fortune Tellers: The Story of America's ...

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:New

About this title


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 the Back Cover:

"Timely, trenchant, and entertaining, Walter Friedman's Fortune Tellers is a captivating history of modern economic forecasting. With graceful prose and penetrating insight, Friedman shows how scientific pretension and cultural persuasion gave birth to a new industry. Through their frustrated attempts to predict the future, Friedman's cast of oracles, gurus, entrepreneurs, and academics finally began to shape it. This is a fascinating tale about doubt and certainty in modern economic life."--Jonathan Levy, author of Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America

"Economic forecasters attempt to reduce the dimensions of the unknowable, for private profit and the public good. Fortune Tellers is the story of America's first professional forecasters. It explains their methods, quirks, limited successes, and major failures in the Great Depression. Friedman's cast of characters--Babson, Moody, several Ivy League professors, and Herbert Hoover--is a fascinating crew of would-be soothsayers. This is intellectual and business history at its best."--Richard Sylla, New York University

"Who knew that the pioneers of economic forecasting in America were such an eclectic, eccentric, entrepreneurial bunch? In profiling the likes of Roger Babson, John Moody, and Irving Fisher, historian Walter Friedman makes vividly clear their noble motives, occasionally hucksterish tendencies, and sometimes downright bizarre thinking. In the process, he elegantly sketches their different theories for charting the economy's future."--Walter Kiechel III, author of The Lords of Strategy

"Fortune Tellers tells the remarkable story of the first generation of economic forecasters in the United States. Like Robert Heilbroner's Worldly Philosophers, it combines biographical vignettes with intellectual history in an engaging narrative that documents the perilous relationship between professional expertise, economic theory, and cultural norms."--Richard R. John, author of Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications

"Fortune Tellers is a deeply researched account of the rise and fall of economic forecasting in early twentieth-century America. Profiling a colorful cast of characters, Friedman deftly documents the careers--and the hubris--of the men who sought to impose predictability and certainty on the modern economy. This is a fascinating, timely book, one with many lessons for our own age of uncertainty."--Stephen Mihm, author of A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States

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