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Sowell's Algorithm: Why the Left Loves Alarmism

“I unequivocally reject, as a person and a scientist, the notion that children are somehow doomed to live an unhappy life”. The words are from climatologist Kate Marvel, from Columbia University in New York, to journalist Ezra Klein’s column in the New York Times three days ago. The reason Dr. Marvel feels the need to make this statement is that climate change alarmism is getting out of hand.

A quarter of childless American adults say global warming is a reason they haven’t had children, according to a survey of 2005 from Morning Consult. The analyst firm Morgan Stanley concluded that “the move towards not having children because of climate change fears is growing and impacting birth rates faster than any previous trend.” The YouGov company, interviewing more than 30 a thousand people around the world, points out that almost half of them believe that climate change will end our species. Although the number of species of living beings on the planet is poorly understood, this misunderstanding does not preclude the now common suggestion that the Earth is undergoing a sixth mass extinction event, similar to the one that killed the dinosaurs.

In the last couple of years, however, climate panic has given way to virus fears. Several alarmists launched themselves into stardom with staggering numbers of how many would die in the pandemic. A pivot in this field was the research group at Imperial College in London, led by epidemiologist Neil Ferguson. The group published a model in March 2021 that led to wild predictions that one to three million Brazilians would die from Covid by September . As they said in an article published in People’s Gazette Steven Hanke, professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Kevin Dowd, professor of finance and economics at the College of Business at Durham University, the Imperial College research group is a real fear machine that has been operating for over years old. It led to the unnecessary slaughter of 10 millions of animals in 2002, promised 178 a thousand dead by evil of mad cow in the UK in 1995 (died 1995 ), and “up to 150 million” by chicken flu in 2005 (they were 456 until last year) .

Something that stands out is that people who produce or spread fanfare with exaggeration usually have a certain political vision. We’ve known this for at least 30 years.

Sowell’s Algorithm

In the book “The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Praise as a Basis for Social Policy” The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, published in 1995 ), the American philosopher and economist Thomas Sowell puts into practice the neutral political theory that he developed in a previous book to criticize the way progressives or leftists act in their causes. Sowell calls them “anointed ones” not (only) to criticize, but because in that earlier book, “Conflict of Visions” (It’s Accomplishments, 2011; original de 456), he offers a political theory with an alternative classification to the traditional left and right.

In short, anointed are those who believe that human nature is essentially good, but corrupted by society, and malleable to its plans for the execution of which they rarely think they do not have sufficient knowledge. Its main rivals are the adherents of the “tragic vision”, who think that the role of society is to civilize human nature, since it is profoundly defective “from the factory”, and therefore every proposal for a social solution is actually a compensation between the intended to do and side effects. The left corresponds to the anointed, but imperfectly. Libertarians who think that a stateless society is possible and believe that it is possible to appeal to the good behavior of individuals with a “non-aggression pact” could also fit into the group.

In economics, the The idea of ​​central planning is clearly an obsession of the anointed, while defenders of the tragic vision will tend to support other configurations such as the free market and the delegation of decisions to entrepreneurs.

Analyzing the “ideological crusades” that attracted anointed intellectuals in the 20th century, “from the eugenics movement in the first decades of the century to environmentalism in the last few decades, as well as the welfare state, socialism, communism, Keynesian economics, and medical, nuclear, and automotive security movements. ”, he sees a pattern that ties it all together.

Let’s call this pattern “Sowell’s algorithm”. It consists of four phases:

  1. Assertions of a great danger to society as a whole, a danger that escapes to the perception of the masses.
  2. An urgent need for action (an ideal solution proposed by the anointed) to prevent the impending catastrophe .
  3. A need for the government to drastically curb the dangerous behavior of the many in response to the prescient conclusions of the few. As it is impossible for the plan to be perfect and there are no unwanted side effects, the results are disappointing.
  4. A dismissive dismissal of counterarguments on the grounds that they are uninformed, irresponsible, or motivated by ulterior motives. This attitude is applied before, during and after the solution proposed in the second step goes wrong.

An algorithm is a recipe or protocol involving operations to solve a given problem. What is different about this algorithm is that it does not deliver solutions, but reinforces the moral superiority of the anointed and ignores criticism. Its first step is always some kind of alarmism, followed by the arrogant self-assertion of the anointed as bearers of the solution, their mania for using the state and its coercive monopoly for this purpose, and, finally, disappointing results that are treated with dissimulation and amnesia.

Applying the algorithm

The book of 1995 of Sowell is rich in examples of the attitude described. Despite the gradual enrichment of the poorest in the United States in previous decades, President Lyndon Johnson, in response to allegations of increasingly common abject poverty (step 1), declared a “war on poverty” in the years 1960 (step 2). The so-called “war” is an assistance plan that promises that the expenditure at the time would compensate with savings later on, as it would raise the poor to a condition of independence. On the anniversary of 22 years of the war on poverty, the Heritage Foundation reported that 22 trillions of dollars in total on the show, three times more than they spent in every war since the American Revolution , with no or limited effect on poverty (step 3). As Vox magazine reported in March 2021, current US President Joe Biden has promised a second war on poverty (step 4). As a result of the help given by Biden, the American job market was left with vacancies.

Carefully, Thomas Sowell is not committed to the difficult idea of ​​proving that the events observed after the far-fetched plans of the anointed ones are always direct results of these plans. But it is enough to note that things usually do not go as promised, that there is a correlation, to know that there is something wrong with alarmism followed by arrogant offers of solutions and even more arrogant rejoinders to criticism.

A pandemic itself offers a wealth of examples of the algorithm. The predictions of deaths inflated the size of the problem, this alarmism motivated fetched solutions involving the closure of commerce and the mandatory use of masks of dubious effectiveness by all, all these measures with questionable scientific quality. Alarmism also did not accept that vaccines were optional, and some people coerced into taking them suffered from side effects — and the problem with that is that whoever forced them should take responsibility, which is not a strong point of the anointed.

In the end, two analyzes of excess deaths indicate that the pandemic killed 20 millions of people — which includes the effects of measures to contain it. An emphasis on rationality would put alarmism aside to recognize ignorance in the proposal of solutions and the size of the problem. But the vision of the anointed, nurturing their own power, treats the population not as a set of rational beings, but as cattle to be touched with the rod of fear. It is not profitable for the population, but it provides employment for many specialists.

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