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Thursday, June 21, 2007


Recently I was reading this post at Rich Karlgaards' blog and it linked to this absolute gem. If you have even a little bit of curiosity about the world you'll find the linked to item very revealing. When trying to make sense of things you can study theory, relevant data and history. This can be done in different fields with different perspectives all trained upon the matter of interest. Some people narrow their focus and get trapped by the dark side before they can acquire a broader perspective. People who do this again and again are Apocaholics.

Hi, I’m Gary and I’m a recovering Apocaholic. I am currently Apocalypse free for nearly 18 years. I left the church of the Religious Apocalypse in 1976, over 30 years ago, and I resigned from the secular church of the Financial Apocalypse in 1989. Yes, I still feel the urge to proclaim the end of all things, from time to time, but I white-knuckle my way to a history book for a little perspective, and then I breathe easier. If you wish to join AA, the only requirement is that you give up the adrenaline rush of media-fed fantasies.
Here is a sampling:

We’ve now gone over 61 years without using nuclear bombs against humans – thank God. Back in the late 1960s, Herman Kahn wrote “On Thermonuclear War” and “Thinking the Unthinkable,” in which he demonstrated that we can survive a nuclear holocaust, but that didn’t seem likely in 1962:

I wrote other articles supporting the ban in DDT, which I am ashamed to say, has caused the deaths of millions of Asians and Africans since then. Many insect-borne diseases were on the verge of extinction in 1970, when the U.S. tied foreign aid to poor nations to their “voluntary” banning of DDT, to our great shame.

Then came Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb” (1968), in which he opened famously by saying, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death, in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

The famine/population fear is older than Malthus. Confucius thought the earth was full, 2500 years ago. Romans thought they had “worn out the earth.” St. Jerome said “the world is already full, and the population too large for the soil.” Tertullian wailed about “teeming populations of Carthage” with “numbers burdensome to the world.” He saw death from famine, war and disease as “the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.” In truth, Rome was rich when it was crowded, and a wasteland when it was empty.

In the early 1970s, Garner Ted Armstrong pulled me aside and gave me a challenging new project, which might take years to finish. He said that all the globe’s trends are getting worse, and that if we could only “feed all these trends into a computer,” we could predict the precise time of the end.
They fed all the same kind of data into Harvard’s massive mainframe and came out with their magnum opus, “Limits to Growth,” modeling the future consequences of growing world population and finite resources.

Shortages beget higher prices and more exploration, not depletion of resources. In the extreme cases, shortages create new technologies. A wood shortage in England in the early 17th Century led to the use of coal and the birth of the industrial revolution. A shortage of whales led to the use and discovery of petroleum, and electrical lighting. The stench of horse manure in urban streets led to the invention of the horseless carriage.

One example was Newsweek, for the week of April 28, 1975. It said that leading climate scientists were “almost unanimous” (sound familiar?) in their predictions of global cooling. Time Magazine had “The Coming Ice Age” on its cover, and the November 1976 issue of National Geographic had a lead article on the problem of global cooling.

In the 1970s alone, all of this was “Coming…”
* The Coming Dollar Devaluation (1970) by Harry Browne
* The Coming Dark Age (1971) by Roberto Vacca
* The Coming Credit Collapse (1974), by Alexander Paris
* The Coming Bad Years (1978), but Howard Ruff
* The Coming Real Estate Crash (1979) by English and Cardiff
The #1 Best-seller in 1987 was Dr. Ravi Batra’s “The Great Depression of 1990.” Dr. Batra turned out to be right on his timing, but wrong on his geography. Japan suffered a decade-long Great Depression in the 1990s, but according to Batra and others, Japan was the last place this could happen. Many other best-sellers of 1987 were proclaiming the superiority of the Japanese management system, Japan’s work ethic, its currency, its wealth and ability to “buy up American assets” from Hawaiian hotels to Hollywood studios. (As it turned out, Japan only knew how to pay way too much for those assets.)

I remember this last book well and was under its' sway for awhile. When I woke up and got over being so foolish my efforts to better understand the world shifted into high gear. My depth and breadth of knowledge and critical thinking skills thereby improved dramatically.

Having gained a new perspective from all of the past misperceptions, Mr. Alexander makes this prediction:
For my grandchildren’s generation, I look for another 75-fold gain in the next 60 years, despite threats from Global Warming, the Housing Crisis, the Triple Deficits in America, and anything else Doomsday prophets dream up in the future. I have been inoculated against such fears. Please join me in abandoning the siren song of the Prophets of Doom.
There will always be challenges and difficulties to overcome. I would be especially concerned about self-inflicted wounds from people trying to fix problems which aren't really problems. There is no sainted savior here on earth who can know what will happen. Do not be seduced by their promise to save us if we only follow their prescription. People living in freedom with a culture and institutions which support innovation and adaptation can always find a way!


Bret said...

Apocaholics. What a great word!

It took me a bit longer to get over apocaholism. I suppose there's nothing worse than a recovering apocaholic which is why more left leaning blogs can't stand me.

Oroborous said...

Mr. Alexander makes this prediction:

For my grandchildren’s generation, I look for another 75-fold gain in the next 60 years...

Mr. Alexander is referring to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, but has inexplicably failed to account for inflation: In real terms, the DOW in April of '07, (for Mr. Alexander is comparing Aprils of various years), is only 750% of the DOW of Apr. '47, a 7.5-fold increase, not 75-fold.

But that's a quibble.

In 2004, the real per-capita GNP of the U.S. was 350% that of the per-capita GNP in 1929, and the 1929 figure was itself a multi-decade high.

For various reasons, including the effects of the kind of work that Bret is doing, I expect the next 60 and 75 years to feature an even greater rate of increase in prosperity than did the last 60 or 75, and due to "virtual reality", the perceived prosperity and happiness will be the greatest in human history.

So I'm kind of an anti-apocaholic, which is what, Panglossian ?
Except that improvements will be real and evident, not just a positive attitude...