It's a familiar quandary: the big vacation is just around the corner. But where to go? Or you need a new car, a washing machine, or a TV. But which one should you buy?
For these and similar issues, there are "experts." Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia, defines experts as "people who possess extensive knowledge in one or more specialized areas or have special skills." That's the theory.
In practice, becoming an expert is much easier. It often suffices to come from Berlin, Boston or Bangkok or have relatives from there, and everyone around you assumes you know the city and its environs, not to mention the history, politics and geography of the entire country like the back of your hand.
That can get aggravating when you need help. I know several people who look like real carpenters or auto mechanics but when it comes to lumber or engines, they are at a loss. They get plenty of work but their lack of training, experience and interest means the results are not those you hoped for.
It's the same for "analysts." An analysis is actually an integrated, systematic assessment in which the subject is broken down into its components, which are then logically arranged, examined and evaluated. Most analysts don't have the vaguest notion about that. Not that they have to. To gain the customer's respect and trust – and, of course, a follow-up job or two – just make a lot of statements about where the stock market is headed, the political future of a country or region or how much a piece of art will be worth in 20 years. Then season that liberally with figures and fragments of theory until nobody understands it anymore.
Analysts' historical forerunners are augurs, astrologers, clairvoyants and other fortune-tellers. Many great historical figures have relied on experts of this sort. Julius Caesar never did anything without first asking his augur on bird wings and birdcalls what position the gods had taken on his respective plans. The Roman leader hurried to the senate without prior consultation only once in his life, on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. The result is history.
Imperial generalissimo Wallenstein (1583 - 1634) kept a star-monger on hand during all of his campaigns. He wouldn't launch a battle without advice. The philosopher, theologian, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and optician Johannes Kepler, who also advised the Habsburg emperor, created Wallenstein's first horoscope. He told the young man that something unpleasant would happen to him in 1634. And wouldn't you know it: in exactly that year, the great commander of the Thirty Years' War was cut down by his own officers.
Experts, analysts, soothsayers and others may help us make decisions. But in the end, it's all our own fault anyway.