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Your daily dose of doom

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Sean Speer interviews Andrew Potter. Potter sets out his case:

“Here are the factors. One is what Tyler Cowen, the economist, calls the “great stagnation” to convey the three- or four-decade-long stagnation in technological development, innovation, and economic growth that has been going on since the 1970s.

Second, I think Benjamin Friedman, the economist, doesn’t get enough credit for connecting the dots between economic stagnation and its socio-political effects. He wrote a really interesting book about 15 years ago called The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, where he says, “Look, growth is great not just because it gives you stuff and raises your standards of living, but it also makes you better people.” That is, it makes you more open to immigration, more tolerant and open to diversity, less risk-averse, and generally less fearful about the future. In effect, it makes you more cosmopolitan and less Hobbesian about the world.

This points to the other key factor in what is going on, in addition to the “great stagnation”, which is almost a downstream effect, which is the rise of conservative populist politics. Right-wing populist politics is, in many ways, a consequence of economic stagnation, including in household incomes.

A third element is the rise of the internet and social media, which a lot of people thought was going to amplify productivity and democracy, but which has had the opposite effect. I used to be pretty optimistic and even cavalier about the effect of the internet on our civil discourse, but now I’m very, very pessimistic.

So, together with a stagnating economy, the rise of populist politics, and the toxic effects of social media, you get this toxic brew of lack of trust: lack of trust in institutions, a lack of trust in experts, and a lack of trust in one another.

Finally, there is another element in all of this, which J. Storrs Hall, an engineering sort of tech guy, reflected in his bookWhere Is My Flying Car?: A Memoir of Future Past, where he argues, “The great stagnation actually became the great strangulation.” That is, what’s standing in the way of growth is not the fact that we just plucked off the low hanging fruit and we can’t figure out new sources of economic growth, but it’s because we’ve buried our economy in a big mass of regulations and risk-averse bureaucracies. So even if we could resolve the political problems that have arisen in the last few years, there’s a more longstanding issue about whether we’re even capable anymore, as a society, of getting anything done.”

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The Hub bears watching.

Summer daze/ Styles of Pessimism

Dalwhinnie is on vacation and Rebel Yell is cycling around Ottawa a lot. The world continues to go to hell at its accustomed pace and there is little we can do about it. For my part, I am trying to spend fewer hours at the computer. A vacation involves the lessening of worldly concerns, and the Internet is a relentless nag about being concerned. I do not really care about any Democratic candidate for the Presidency in 2020. Donald Trump will crush the one eventually chosen and only wilful blindness will prevent people from seeing it and the media from saying so.

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An interesting article appeared in Quillette regarding styles of pessimissm. “Four Flavours of Doom: A Taxonomy of Contemporary Pessimism” examines the issue well. The author, Maarten Boudry, identifies four kinds of doomism. I am guilty of at least one kind.

The Nostalgic Pessimist

In the good old days, everything was better. Where once the world was whole and beautiful, now everything has gone to ruin. Different nostalgic thinkers locate their favorite Golden Age in different historical periods. 

The “Just You Wait” Pessimist

Some are prepared to admit, unlike the nostalgists, that the world has improved considerably over the past two centuries. But, they maintain, this cannot possibly last. The hubris of modern man, with his naïve belief in progress, must be punished sooner or later. I call this the “Just You Wait” school of pessimism

The Cyclical Pessimist

This kind of pessimist will agree that things are going pretty well at the moment, but he doesn’t think our current run of luck is historically exceptional. Humankind has experienced periods of relative prosperity and peace before, but all have come to an end sooner or later. The course of history, for the cyclical pessimist, comes and goes like the tides or the seasons

The Treadmill Pessimist

The treadmill pessimist accepts the reality of some objective measures of progress (more wealth, less violence, longer and healthier lives), but maintains that—despite everything—we haven’t really made advances where it truly matters. Like Alice and the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, we have been running ourselves ragged only to find, when we take a breath and look around, that we are still in the same place where we started

Beaudry concludes:

Of course, we are not living in the “best of all possible worlds,” as Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss believed, but we may well be living in the best of all hitherto available worlds. If we want to create a better one, thus proving Dr. Pangloss wrong once again, the methods of science, free markets, and liberal democracy provide our best hope of succeeding. When will Westerners regain their belief in progress?

I am not an eco-doomist I am a cultural declinist and concerned about Islam’s invasion through adventitious exploitation of our lack of cultural antibodies.

Choose your doom. You can talk about one (ecological carbon fixation) but you cannot talk about the other (educational decline and islamic invasion). Why is this? Whose interest is served?