Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Picture of an Imperfect World, Made Worse by You

With our debate about burlesque-as-art tomorrow night (Thur. 8pm at Lolita Bar, no longer Wednesdays) likely hinging partly on the photographs of debater Monty Leman, I was reminded of the most disturbing photo I’ve ever seen — twenty-five years ago. With a moment’s Google search, I found it again all these years later, for good or ill. It looks just the way I remember it — and anyone not affected by it is likely a sociopath. Most people feel, or ought to feel, a sense of angry rebellion over the fact that incident couldn’t somehow be prevented.

The faster wealth and technology increase, and thus the ease of taking safety precautions and making rescue efforts increases, the less often things like the incident in the photo have to happen. You may also, then, be a sociopath if you, or the philosophies you embrace, slow the growth of wealth and technology, even if you call yourself an idealist or some other noble-sounding label.

Every communitarian or socialist who says capitalism undermines social cohesion, every green who says let the people live in old-fashioned ways and submit to the beauty of nature, every religious person who says staving off death and injury is less important than what happens after death and that we should not care about material advancement, every antiglobalization activist who hinders free trade and the benefits that flow from it, every moderate who says half a market is enough — the incident in that photo is the sort of thing you invite, with greater frequency than necessary, countless unnoticed times a day.

I wondered when I was young if I’d devote any time to fighting you (instead of doing something more frivolous but remunerative), but by now I know I’ll spend my whole life fighting you and couldn’t live with myself any other way.


jenny said...

I really don’t follow your logic on this one at all, Todd. socialism, religion, environmentalism, and regulation combined to cause a volcano (active for millennia) to erupt and the resulting lahar to take out surrounding towns? or did those things conspire to lead civilian authorities to underestimate the implications of the seismic activity that had been noted before the eruption?

Todd Seavey said...

As Steve Forbes has wisely written in the past, even if a century ago you had added only as much economic drag as that created by a slightly-larger welfare state, you end up with Mexican as opposed to U.S. growth rates and, as a result, all of us living as though it were the 1970s now instead of the twenty-first century.

Every impediment to economic efficiency undermines our ability to create novel solutions to medical problems, disasters, and everything else. All energy diverted by the statists and the mystics is energy that could otherwise have gone into inventing, creating, improving human life.

The state and mystical distractions, in short, rob us of the futuristic lifestyles we would otherwise have led. That means fewer personal flying craft, fewer people with the spare time and money to aid rescue operations, less money to spend on escape plans and pontoon boats.

Economic sluggishness kills, more than anything else kills — not always as plainly as the 100 million murdered outright by socialists in the twentieth century but often just by making everything slightly more cheap, dangerous, and “quaint.” And as Jonah Goldberg has rightly pointed out, it’s no coincidence that poorer, less free-market countries suffer bigger body counts from the same scale disasters than advanced industrial nations. It’s simply harder to escape life’s dilemmas if the state has made you poor by hindering markets.

This often takes the form of subtly shortened lifespans instead of highly-visible disasters, but the state’s toll in death and disease is a constant phenomenon, a never-ending burden — unless at last humanity is waking up, and debt-crushed states are left on the ash heap of history like Naziism.

Ken Silber said...

The assumption here is that every state action effectively kills and hurts people, and every market action effectively extends and improves their lives. I don’t see a solid basis for believing this is always and everwhere true. Why is it impossible that, say, a state-enforced earthquake code will result in fewer people dying from an earthquake than if the buildings went up purely in accordance with free-market principles?

Todd Seavey said...

Insurance premiums.

Ken Silber said...


Xine said...

A few pieces re: Jenny’s question–

jenny said...

All energy diverted by the statists and the mystics is energy that could otherwise have gone into inventing, creating, improving human life.

even if i bought the assumption that nothing statists or mystics do improves human life, the key to your sentence is could.


no guarantee that it would.

Todd Seavey said...

I meant to say: does.

Ken Silber said...

All energy diverted by the statists and the mystics is energy that does otherwise have gone into inventing, creating, improving human life.

Still needs work.