"It could be worse. At least they're getting it wrong in the right direction," said a colleague as we discussed yet another set of economic forecasts being blown out of the water.
Last week it was shock unemployment figures. Before that it was the inflation rate, before that it was GDP.
I'm not sure economic forecasts ever have been so consistently wrong, at least in the 20 years or so I've been following them.
But yes, at least we're constantly being surprised on the upside.
There an obvious reason why forecasting has been so difficult this past year, so I'm not about to beat up on economists themselves.
Predicting the future is a mug's game at the best of times.
Economists do play that mug's game by putting hard numbers on their forecasts.
But you are an even bigger mug if you take the numbers literally.
The point of economics is to provide context to inform good decision-making.
Forecasts provide an anchor for interpreting the actual data as it arrives, whether they are right or wrong.
And let's be honest, they are wrong more often than they are right.
In my view, it's more important to pay attention to the words economists put around the numbers.
They spend a lot of time explaining why they might be wrong and what the risks in either direction are.
Forecasts rely on models based on history. That's all we've got. No one has an actual crystal ball.
There are no models for how a pandemic affects an economy.
The last one was more than 100 years ago.
It was a very different pandemic in a completely different world.
I often to compare economic commentary with sports commentary.
In that both work with varying levels of difficulty and accuracy.
Binary calls aren't so bad.
Will a number be better or worse?
That's usually not so hard to get right based on recent form.
If the All Blacks are playing Samoa you don't have to be a rugby expert to pick the winner.
But then there is picking the score.
That's still extremely difficult given all the variables involved.
Economists got unemployment forecasts wrong on both counts.
It was, in sporting terms, a huge upset.
Just how wrong were they?
Well, it was better not worse.
But the consensus forecast last week was a rise to 5.6 per cent. It came in at 4.9 per cent.
Nominally that looks like less than 1 per cent - but in percentage terms they were over 14 per cent off.
Treasury and the Reserve Bank were actually further out of whack, with forecasts at 6.4 and 6.6 per cent.
That's largely because they don't get to publish forecasts as frequently as market economists and don't get the opportunity to revise the numbers as they go.
New Zealand's economic data has been consistently better than expected for at least six months and economists have been scrambling to catch up.
If we want to be really mean we can go back to weeks after pandemic hit.
As we went into level 4 lockdown we were all panicking.
Toilet paper was in short supply and the consensus was that unemployment would be roughly twice as bad as it has turned - peaking at somewhere between 9 and 11 per cent.
The economic damage of closed borders and extended lockdowns seemed horrific. People were talking about a depression-era downturn.
In June, international rating agency S&P said it expected New Zealand house prices to fall by about 10 per cent.
That was supposed to be good news given it concluded that our banking system should probably survive.
The estimate was in line with many local economists.
I suspect being wrong about job losses pretty much underpins everything else that economists and commentators have been wrong about in the past year.
The Government's quick (and surprisingly efficient) roll-out of fiscal support to limit job losses worked better than anyone dreamed.
And once New Zealanders had job security they relaxed and started spending.
That could have easily gone the other way. If we'd lost confidence, a recession would have set in.
A lot of things have gone unusually well for New Zealand.
We kept the virus at bay better than anyone expected. We spent less time in lockdown than the most optimistic Treasury models assumed.
We have had an export commodity boom with record dairy, meat and fruit prices to off-set the foreign exchange losses from the lack tourists.
We've managed to keep a roll on the building and construction boom - now at levels not seen since the early 1970s.
Small businesses adapted their operations with heroic zeal.
There are some things economists might have seen earlier.
The amount Kiwis were spending on international travel was documented but still came as surprise.
And who could have picked that we'd embrace domestic tourism so enthusiastically?
Our reliance on immigrant workers has also come as a bigger surprise than it probably should have.
There's plenty that economists got wrong.
But the great thing about economist (unlike many politicians) is that they are quick to admit when they are wrong and adjust their outlook.
To their credit they have all consistently backed New Zealand to get through this crisis.
They never gave into pessimism. The commentary has been positive even if the numbers weren't.
They will likely stay cautious in outlook even the data continues to show them up for a while.
We should hope they do.
"Better than expected" results are technically just as wrong as "worse than expected" results.
But the later does significantly more damage to our lives.
Listen: On the Money Talks podcast, ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner talks to Liam Dann about getting it wrong and why economics still matters.
- Correction: An earlier verion of this column said economists were less than 1 per cent out in their unemployment forecasts. Infact they were more than 14 per cent out and this line has been amended