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The Fates of Ukraine and Putin Turn on 7 Forces of History

By Niall Ferguson

09 Mar 2022 · 14 min read

What makes history so hard to predict — the reason there is no neat “cycle” of history enabling us to prophesy the future — is that most disasters come out of left field. Unlike hurricanes and auto accidents, to which we can at least attach probabilities, the biggest disasters (pandemics and wars) follow power-law or random distributions. They belong in the realm of uncertainty, or what Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book “The Black Swan,” calls “Extremistan.” They are like tsunamis, not tides.

What’s more, as I argued in my book “Doom,” disasters don’t come in any predictable sequence. The most I can say is that we tend not to get the same disaster twice in succession. This time we’ve gone from plague to war. In 1918, it was from war to plague. The Hundred Years’ War began eight years before the Black Death struck England.

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