Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Down With Gloom and Doom

From Matt Ridley's article "Down with Doom: How the World Keeps Defying the Predictions of Pessimists":

"When I was a student, in the 1970s, the world was coming to an end. The adults told me so. They said the population explosion was unstoppable, mass famine was imminent, a cancer epidemic caused by chemicals in the environment was beginning, the Sahara desert was advancing by a mile a year, the ice age was retuning, oil was running out, air pollution was choking us and nuclear winter would finish us off. There did not seem to be much point in planning for the future.

By the time I was 21 years old I realized that nobody had ever said anything optimistic to me - in a lecture, a television program or even a conversation in a bar - about the future of the planet and its people, at least not that I could recall. Doom was certain.

The next two decades were just as bad: acid rain was going to devastate forests, the loss of the ozone layer was going to fry us, gender-bending chemicals were going to decimate sperm counts, swine flu, bird flu and Ebola virus were going to wipe us all out. In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro opened its agenda for the twenty-first century with the words `Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.'

By then I had begun to notice that this terrible future was not all that bad. In fact every single one of the dooms I had been threatened with had proved either false or exaggerated. The population explosion was slowing down, famine had largely been conquered, India was exporting food, cancer rates were falling not rising, the Sahel was greening, the climate was warming, oil was abundant, air pollution was falling fast, nuclear disarmament was proceeding apace, forests were thriving, sperm counts had not fallen. And above all, prosperity and freedom were advancing at the expense of poverty and tyranny.

I began to pay attention and a few years ago I started to research a book on the subject. I was astounded by what I discovered. Global per capita income, corrected for inflation, had trebled in my lifetime, life expectancy had increased by one third, child mortality had fallen by two-thirds, the population growth rate had halved. More people had got out of poverty than in all of human history before. When I was born, 36% of Americans had air conditioning. Today 79% of Americans below the poverty line had air conditioning. The emissions of pollutants from a car were down by 98%. The time you had to work on the average wage to buy an hour of artificial light to read by was down from 8 seconds to half a second.

Not only are human beings wealthier, they are also healthier, wiser, happier, more tolerant, less violent, more equal. Check it out - the data are clear. Yet if anything the pessimists had only grown more certain, shrill and apocalyptic."

HT: Coyote Blog


At 7/07/2010 11:15 AM, Anonymous Benny The Man said...

Som people are such hysterical doomsayers they say we should spend $3 trillion--and counting--fighting terrorists. They also said the commies would take over the world.
Some whack job doomsters say we shoudl spend $800 billion every year--in Defense,and in homeland security-civilian defense--to fight terrorism.
Man, being a doomster is expensive.

At 7/07/2010 11:28 AM, Blogger DARG said...

They do have their uses.

It's quite possible that these "predictions" have "motivated" people to take action.

My memory doesn't serve me well, but I remember a movie where it was stated that humanity has an amazing propensity to come together and solve problems just in the nick of time....

That said, I am all for joy and ecstasy.

At 7/07/2010 11:51 AM, Anonymous Hieronymous said...

Once you ignore the doomsayers, life is pretty darn good, all things considered. Indeed, my life is filled with joy and good fortune, despite its many setbacks and what some might call "obstacles."

In economic terms: today's note is as well applicable to the shift in focus from "poverty" to "wealth disparity." Referencing, e.g., your recent post on tumbling food costs (as a percentage of income), even the Loony Left can no longer harp on the evils of poverty; why? The "poor" in the US are the richest poor on earth!

So instead we must shift to the unconscionable gulf between the fairly comfy everyone-into-the-middle-class pool and Bill Gates et al.

Same thing as focusing on doom. By focusing on externalities against which the individual is helpless, one fosters dependence on the group (or State or collective or hive or borg).

Those who focus on their own station (and its improvement) are generally happier--despite the derision and persecution piled upon them by the unhappy harpies.

Such is life.

Despite the opprobrium (and taxes) headed my way, I wouldn't change a thing.

Humans--and economics--are remarkably resilient. Children in the Warsaw ghetto found happiness, but overfed, over-empowered lefties will always ALWAYS find outrageous harm/distraction/discrimination. It's in their DNA.

At 7/07/2010 11:56 AM, Blogger bix1951 said...

we live in the happy economy where we have more than enough of all good things

At 7/07/2010 12:02 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Buce: "This guy is the son of a Viscount and former chairman of a bank that got a multibillion dollar wet kiss from the British taxpayers. I'd be smiling too."

Matt Ridley: "Like others who have tried to draw attention to improving living standards - notably Julian Simon and Bjorn Lomborg - I am beginning to be subjected to a sustained campaign of vilification by the pessimists. They distort my argument, impugn my motives and attack me for saying things I never said. They say I think the world is perfect when I could not be clearer that I advocate progress precisely because we should be ambitious to put right so much that is still wrong. They say that I am a conservative, when it is the reactionary mistrust of change that I am attacking. They say that I am defending the rich, when it is the enrichment of the poor that I argue for. They say that I am complacent, when the opposite is true. I knew this would happen, and I take it as a back-handed compliment, but the ferocity is still startling. They are desperate to shut down the debate rather than have it."

Thanks for confirming this part of Ridley's piece, Buce.

At 7/07/2010 12:03 PM, Anonymous morganovich said...

extreme views make for good media.

you could make this same claim about the "dow 25,000" guys and those proclaiming new eras of prosperity from solar, cold fusion, genetic medicine, etc.

the truth is usually moderate, but moderate makes for unengaging headlines.

more media outlets yield more extreme headlines as they fight for share and more scattered reader attention.

i'd love to see a study about the incidence of words like "unprecedented" and "crisis" over time. i suspect a significant up trend.

At 7/07/2010 12:47 PM, Blogger McKibbinUSA said...

I believe that we the people have been exceedingly optimistic given the constant talk of austerity, pollution, disease, and war by our elected leadership. However, I am not yet of the mind that the matters of austerity (witness events unfolding in California, not to mention Wall Street), pollution (witness the Gulf of Mexico oil spill catastrophe), disease (witness the talk of flu epidemics across the nation this past winter), and war (witness our continuing fighting in Afghanistan and the continuing threat of terrorist attacks) can or should be easily dismissed as figments of our imagination...

At 7/07/2010 12:48 PM, Anonymous Benny The Man said...

Hysterical doomsters said commies would take over the world, and we had to spend trillions fighting them, including a lengthy war in Vietnam that took 60,000 young Americans and left them dead.
Then the panty-waste doomsetrs cried we had to be terrified of terrorists, and we have spent $3 trillion in Iraqistan fighting terrorists.
I guess terrorists would take over the world?
We spend $800 billion a year on the DoD, VA, and homeland security-civilian defense, fighting terrorist “threats.” Lately, we have seen a one punk with an underwear bomb that didn't work, and another punk who left a car parked in Times Square. It didn't work either. Woo-wooo I am so afraid.
The doomsters say every year we need to spend more money on our defense establishment or something really, really terrible will happen to us.
The douche-bag doomsters sure know how to spend money–taxpayer money, your money and my money.

At 7/07/2010 1:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Benji: The federal government has a constitutional obligation to provide for the national defense. It has no such obligation to implement socialism on a grand scale as your man crush Obama has attempted. Let's give up the ghost that you are opposed to socialism because you oppose the military and say you oppose agricultural subsidies, ok. We all know your real motivations.

At 7/07/2010 1:02 PM, Blogger Paul said...

"Hysterical doomsters said commies would take over the world, and we had to spend trillions fighting them, including a lengthy war in Vietnam that took 60,000 young Americans and left them dead."

Yeah, the communists only took over large portions of the world including all of Eastern Europe, and most of Asia. The Venona files and KGB archives revealed the State Department under FDR and Truman were honey-combed with communists.

Crazy doomsters.

At 7/07/2010 1:27 PM, Anonymous Hieronymous said...

"Lately, we have seen a one punk with an underwear bomb that didn't work, and another punk who left a car parked in Times Square. It didn't work either. Woo-wooo I am so afraid."

I take it that your office does not overlook "ground zero?" Mine does--or, to be more precise, did.

"I guess terrorists would take over the world?"

You really do not understand jihad, do you?

And this is not new, you know: the Ottoman Empire extended into Europe as lately as World War I.

But you knew that, surely?

At 7/07/2010 2:00 PM, Anonymous Benny The Man said...

Hysteria about terrorism is not only doomsterism, it plays into terrorist hands. Terrorism is essentially PR stunts.

Even 9/1l was a punk act. We lose 30,000 a year in auto accidents, and 18,000 a year in gunshot deaths, in the USA.
9/11 was 3,000 people. And that was the terrorists best PR stunt ever. Usually, they can kill only a couple hundred people.

The worst scare-mongering doomsters are the guys who every year predict doom, doom, doom unless we spend $800 billion a year on defense.

We don't even have any state-enemies left. Just a few punk terrorists.

Tell me about doomsters, man.

At 7/07/2010 2:03 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

Having been exposed to the doom and gloom since starting college in 1968 when the seminar series had professors tell us how x y and z were going to kill us, has lead me to what I have heard called apocalypse fatigue. The first conclusion I reached is that if it is suggested that 1000 things are going to kill me, 999 of them won't happen.
The other alternative, and one that I suspect many take is the
eat, drink, and be merry (adding do drugs in the modern version) because we can't do a damn thing about it, so we might as well enjoy what time we have left. (Actually except for the drugs a biblical reference in as suggested in the sermon on the mount, about consider the lillies of the field).
Of course if you want funding or notice it helps to predict the end of the world.
For example compared to a hot nuclear war of the 1970-1990 time frame terrorism is not an existental threat to civilization. Yes in the worst case a good chunk of a city might die, but that would not be the end of civilization. However now the US is in the depressive phase of its manic depressive cycle, and we need something bad so we invent it.

At 7/07/2010 2:24 PM, Anonymous grant said...

The chemicals DDT and organo chlorides/phosphates were banned because of their slow ability to break down in nature.These chemicals when sprayed annually onto a wheat crop would allow the over spray to build up in the soil resulting in very high pestaside levels in individual plants through the process of normal growth.
When this wheat was placed on the world market for sale the purchasing country would reject the shipment and/or refuse payment. The shipment would then have to be sold spot usually to a third world country at a loss.
DDT had similar problems.
The process of banning these chemicals was very slow but the important is that a system was in place for that to happen.
This problem was what sent the major US agricultural chemical company to start the GM modification of plants instead.

At 7/07/2010 2:25 PM, Blogger Paul said...

"Hysteria about terrorism is not only doomsterism, it plays into terrorist hands. Terrorism is essentially PR stunts."

What drivel. If you fight terrorism, you're "hysterical." Our troops have killed many high ranking terrorists by the thousands, defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq, ended Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, and have broken up terrorist plots via intelligence gained by boots on the ground.

But Benji can't see how that might help keep the terrorist body count down in the US. All he sees is the end result and concludes nothing to see here.

At 7/07/2010 2:26 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Optimistic words without the complementary actions can be like diving into a pool that has no water.

At 7/07/2010 3:55 PM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

Only a bunch of weenie-nancies would be worried about terrorists. I suppose some pussy-wussy somewhere is actually afraid, some craven poltroon-wimp of a stripling with his bark seared off by a strong wind.
Like Paul.
Real men swallow nails and crap pig iron, Paul. We eat lightening, and fart thunder.
Come one, Paul, get on board. Do not crumple like a paper bag in front of glowering "terrorists." Do not cancel airplane flights becuase of the panty-bomber.
Put on your your best pink undies and get tough.

At 7/07/2010 4:45 PM, Blogger Paul said...

"Real men swallow nails and crap pig iron, Paul. We eat lightening, and fart thunder."

Are you dreaming about your boyfriend again?

Where did you do your boot camp, Benji? I did mine at Ft Jackson.

At 7/07/2010 4:59 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

Paul compare the risks of terrorism versus the risks of nuclear war in say 1970-1989. In both cases an individual might well get killed, but society would be in a vastly different state afterwords. After the nuclear war it truly was back to the stone age (or before) in particular the full scale one, then the cockroaches (which can take a lot more radiation) would well have inherited the earth.
Terrorism is not an existential threat to humanity. So they are in to different worlds.
As pointed out in a comment to an earlier thread if the FAA had had a policy, of make an emergency landing if there is an incident on board, and if the cockpit doors had been reinforced like they are now 9/11 would most likley resulted in the storming of the planes after they landed and some passenger causalities.
Its not like 9/11 was really a creative idea it had been tried years before on a PSA flight.
One needs to rank risks, and have some perspective. The 1962 cuban missile crisis was a far greater threat to humanity than terrorism.
At worst 9/11 was the equivalent of 40 years of lighting fatalities (about 82 per year).

At 7/07/2010 5:11 PM, Anonymous morganovich said...


that depends on the terrorism, doesn't it?

nuclear terrorism is a whole different matter. sure, maybe it's just once city, but what happens in response?

chemical could be just as bad.

biological could be far, far worse spreading all over the western world in days and perhaps the whole world as well.. do you have any idea what a nasty communicable bioweapon deployed at o'hare would do?

sure, the damage is out of control and impossible to predict, but if you like in caves in pakistan, do you care?

i'm not disagreeing that locking down the whole country in response to a few attacks is a win for the terrorists and that we'd be better off emulating britian during the blitz, but going after the terrorists is not such a bad idea either. i'd much rather take the war to them and have them cowering under predator drones that live like the israelis did during the intifada with buses and restaurants blowing up and rockets raining down.

i'm willing to pay taxes to have the fight somewhere else.

At 7/07/2010 5:17 PM, Anonymous Titus Pullo said...

Remember the Twin Towers held about 50,000. There was time for the vast majority to escape before the two crumbled, although unfortunately 300 of New York's Finest police/fire got caught because these buildings stayed up 90 minutes after impact. It could have been much worse than the it was, as bad as the 3000 who dies in WTC/Pentagon.

I think on the whole there is grounds for guarded optimism although the aging of the Baby Boomers will cause problems. But the arc of history is long and almost always upward, as long as mankind is vigilant about fixing problems.

At 7/07/2010 5:24 PM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

dannybuntu: "It's quite possible that these "predictions" have "motivated" people to take action."

That's an intriguing thought, danny. Can we credit Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" with the creation of the EPA? And can we then credit the EPA we created when we note that "emissions of pollutants from a car were down by 98%"? I really do not know.

Americans will act together when they believe the doomsayers.

In the late 1960's, an overwhelmingly majority of Americans were convinced that air pollution needed to be sharply reduced. Through the Clean Air Act, Congress defined air pollution to be ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and lead. America was onboard. As a result, those pollutants have been sharply reduced.

Today, following the early alarmists, the EPA and many scientists are telling us that carbon dioxide must be sharply reduced. But the American people are confused and many are skeptical. And so we have not acted.

We still do not know which alarmists are right and which are wrong. Many now believe Rachel Carson was wrong in her claims, while acknowleding that the environmental consciousness she awakened has been beneficial.

At 7/07/2010 7:04 PM, Blogger Craig Howard said...

My very favorite doomsday prediction from the seventies was that the young baby-boomers wouldn't have the investment opportunities of their parents.

There weren't enough shares of stock -- really, I heard that.

At 7/07/2010 7:14 PM, Anonymous Benny The Ham said...


Don't ask, don't tell.

At 7/07/2010 7:20 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Thanks again pseudo benny for yet again reaffirming that your grip on reality is tenuous at best...

Don't YOU ever get tired of bragging about that character flaw?

"The chemicals DDT and organo chlorides/phosphates were banned because of their slow ability to break down in nature"...

Hey grant, don't buy into what the tree huggers & root kissers are pushing regarding DDT without looking around a bit more...

Give these two shorties a squint...

The Worst Thing Nixon Ever Did

video: Demonizing DDT: Challenging The Scare Campaign That Has Cost Millions of Lives

At 7/07/2010 8:16 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Does 'down with gloom & doom' mean ignoring the potential of more taxes?

From the Business Insider a 12 slide slideshow: Deficit Hysteria Means The Middle Class Is About To Get Squeezed By New Taxes

At 7/07/2010 8:21 PM, Blogger Paul said...


Exactly. The technological curve is steep. The jihadists have the intent and the money to cause mass death far surpassing 9/11 in the West. All they need is the access. I'd prefer to disrupt their plots and kill them before they get it.

At 7/07/2010 9:15 PM, Anonymous Cassandra said...

Oooh. I am scared of jihadists. I have lost my bowels. Doom is coming, doom is coming.

At 7/08/2010 7:55 AM, Blogger Paul said...


Do you call yourself Cassandra when you and your boyfriend role play?

At 7/08/2010 8:03 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

The fact that we can see and expect to see many in the developing world increase their standard of living and see a major increase in their income and wealth does not mean that we can be positive about the growth of deficit spending and government size in the West. I can be very optimistic about the world but can still see that Japan, Europe and the US can have serious troubles ahead of them.

The trick is not to fall for claims that are not supported by any data or logical arguments. Obviously the AGW movement is worshiping a false god and is based on cherry picking and omissions instead of real science. Obviously there isn't a problem with acid rain, ozone depletion, the use of DDT to fight malaria, etc. But that does not change the fact that we are now on the back end of Hubbert's curve, that SS and Medicare are broke, that health care costs are about to spiral out of control, and that the tax cuts which helped people survive the downturn are about to expire.

Being an optimist is not a virtue. In the real world we need to see reality as it is and act accordingly.

At 7/08/2010 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'fact that we are now on the back end of Hubbert's curve'

I'd have to hunt around to find the article, but Hubbert's curve failed as a predictor, except US oil production circa 1970. Otherwise not too good.

I've seen it suggested that the symmetrical curve he drew was a convenience, not the expected shape of the curve.

At 7/08/2010 2:38 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

I'd have to hunt around to find the article, but Hubbert's curve failed as a predictor, except US oil production circa 1970. Otherwise not too good.

I've seen it suggested that the symmetrical curve he drew was a convenience, not the expected shape of the curve.

I suggest that you actually do some research on the subject. Hubbert was proven correct and his method is sound. The problem with the method is that it requires data which is not being disclosed by national oil companies. That means that we will not see the big problem until it is far too late to avoid much of the damage. What I found interesting is the change in attitude at the IEA and EIA. After claiming that we will see 120mbpd output by 2025 both government sponsored agencies have smartened up and seen the light. And even though they are still far from the truth, the are a lot closer to it than they were just a few years ago when they accepted OPEC reserve estimates without question.


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