January 31, 2006

"Beliefs have consequences, and they're sometimes harsh..."

It's interesting when an idea appears in several places simultaneously. Mike Plaiss sent me a link to a great essay by Arnold Kling Stuck on 1968,.

"Worldviews are more a mental security blanket than a serious effort to understand the world."
    -- Bryan Caplan, The Logic of Collective Belief

Most people who were liberals in 1968 still are. Liberals. In 1968....

...I want to contrast the way the world might have appeared to a reasonable liberal in 1968 with the way events have unfolded since then. Afterwards, if you still prefer the folk beliefs of 1968 to my views today, so be it. But at least you have an opportunity to reconsider.

And I recently noticed something by Michael Barone on the same theme. And then today this great piece by Rich Karlgaard...

....Let's fire up Doc Brown's DeLorean time-traveler and return to 1976.

But would we really want to go? We'd be reminded that the prevailing view of the world in 1976 was:

• The planet was severely overpopulated and would soon run out of natural resources.

• The age of entrepreneurship was dead and was being replaced by the conglomerated efficiencies of large companies.

• Capitalism was morally repugnant because it wasted resources and oppressed the poor.

The zeitgeist of 1976 had taken root in 1968, a year of turmoil and doubt. Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich fueled our doubts with a bestseller called The Population Bomb. Ehrlich predicted catastrophe: Famine would break out, followed by global wars, etc. Implied in Ehrlich's writing was that humans were consumers, not producers, of resources. If Ehrlich was right--and most of us gullible college students thought he was--then the only moral path available for us was to not procreate.

Suppose you believed Ehrlich. Suppose your 1976 sense of moral certitude overrode your natural instinct to want children. Suppose it wasn't until the late 1980s that you woke up and realized Ehrlich was a boob, that he had gotten it all wrong. Whoops, better get busy trying to make babies, right? But what if all those years later one's sperm count or egg motility was no longer up to the task? What if your fertility window had opened and shut while you were under the spell of quacks like Ehrlich?

Well, too bad for you.

Beliefs have consequences, and they're sometimes harsh. One 1976 college grad joins AT&T, having been taught by John Kenneth Galbraith at Harvard that we live in an age of great corporate efficiency. Another joins Oracle, thinking this Larry Ellison guy is awfully smart. The first person trades excitement for prestige and gets neither. The second gets both, helps change the business world for the better and retires rich. Ideas and worldviews do matter greatly in our lives....

All so true. I remember when big corporations were popularly considered to be immune to market forces, because they could just produce whatever they wanted, and then have Madison Avenue brainwash people into buying it!

I think a lot of poor stuck-in-the-60's lefties still believe it. Imagine the cognitive dissonance they must feel, living in a age where decade-old companies can be considered dinosaurs, soon to be prey for younger and nimbler outfits! Must drive them crazy. That, and having Barry Goldwater in the White House...

Posted by John Weidner at January 31, 2006 2:58 PM
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