Question: Why is it so hard to predict the future?
In the eighteen-sixties, the quickest, or at least the most popular, way to get around main cities such as New York and London was in a horse-drawn streetcar. Imagine, before the introduction of the automobile, horses were leaving about 2.5 million pounds of horse manure filled NYC streets per day. Think of the smell, the mess and the dead horses laying in the streets, moreover imagine the flies stopping by to take a rest and have a drink on your soup bowl.
Yes, it was understood that flies were a transmission vector for disease, and a public-health crisis seemed imminent.
Every major city in the world was trying to find a solution to the horse shit problem. Horse drawn wagons were really the only way to haul large cargo, and more and more wagons were needed to cart away the piles of manure, which meant more horses in the city to make manure. City developers didn’t see a good way out.
One commentator predicted that by 1930 horse manure would reach the level of Manhattan’s third-story windows. New York’s troubles were not New York’s alone; in 1894, the Times of London forecast that by the middle of the following century every street in the city would be buried under nine feet of manure.
And then the automobile showed up. Almost overnight, the crisis passed. This was not brought about by regulation or by government policy. Instead, it was technological innovation that made the difference. With electrification and the development of the internal-combustion engine, there were new ways to move people and goods around. By 1912, autos in New York outnumbered horses, and in 1917 the city’s last horse-drawn streetcar made its final run. All the anxieties about a metropolis inundated by ordure had been misplaced.
So again: Why is it so hard to predict the future?