Don’t Put Too Much Faith in the Experts

Between 2 million and 3 million Americans will die!

That was the prediction from “experts” at London’s Imperial College when COVID-19 began. They did also say if there was “social distancing of the whole population,” the death toll could be cut in half, but 1.1 million to 1.46 million Americans would still die by this summer.

Our actual death toll has been about one-tenth of that.

Nevertheless, Imperial College’s model was extremely influential.

Politicians issued stay-at-home orders. They said we must trust the “experts.”

“Follow the science. Listen to the experts. Do what they tell you,” said Joe Biden, laughing at what he considered an obvious truth.

But “there is no such thing as ‘the science!'” replies science reporter Matt Ridley in my new video about “expert” predictions. “Science consists of people disagreeing with each other!”

The lockdowns, he adds, were “quite dangerously wrong.”

Because Imperial’s model predicted that COVID-19 would overwhelm hospitals, patients were moved to nursing homes. The coronavirus then spread in nursing homes.

Ordering almost every worker to stay home led to an economic collapse that may have killed people, too.

“The main interventions that helped prevent people dying were stopping large gatherings, people washing their hands and wearing face masks, general social distancing—not forcing people to stay home,” says Ridley.

Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo now admits: “We all failed at that business. All the early national experts: ‘Here’s my projection model.’ They were all wrong.”

If he and other politicians had just done just a little research, then they would have known that Imperial College researchers repeatedly predict great disasters that don’t happen. Their model predicted 65,000 deaths from swine flu, 136,000 from mad cow disease, and 200 million from bird flu.

The real numbers were in the hundreds.

After such predictions were repeatedly wrong, why did politicians boss us around based on those same “experts” models?

“If you say something really pessimistic about how many people are going to die,” explains Ridley, “the media want to believe you. The politicians daren’t not believe you.”

This bias towards pessimism applies to fear of climate change, too.

Thirty-two years ago, climate “experts” said rising seas would “completely cover” the islands of the Maldives “in the next 30 years.” But now, 32 years later, the islands are not only still there, they’re doing better than ever. They’re even building new airports.

“Climate change is real,” says Ridley, “but it’s not happening nearly as fast as models predicted.”

Models repeatedly overpredict disaster because that’s “a very good way of attracting attention to your science and getting rewarded for it,” says Ridley.

One more example: For years, “experts” predicted an oil shortage. President Jimmy Carter warned, “The oil and natural gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are simply running out.” All the “experts” agreed.

But as the demand for oil grew, oil prices rose. That inspired entrepreneurs to invent new ways of getting more oil and gas out of the same rocks. They succeeded so well that America now has so much oil and gas that we sell some to other countries.

Ridley’s new book, How Innovation Works, shows how innovators prove “experts” wrong all the time.

He points out that the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation once said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Microsoft’s CEO confidently said: “There’s no chance the iPhone is going to get significant market share.”

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that because “most people have nothing to say to each other…the Internet’s impact on the economy (will be) no greater than the fax machine’s.”

Of course, not all experts are wrong. Useful experts do exist. I want a trained civil engineer to design any bridge I cross.

But Ridley points out: “There is no such thing as expertise on the future. It’s dangerous to rely too much on models (which lead politicians to) lock down society and destroy people’s livelihood. Danger lies both ways.”

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The Irreplaceable Survives the Interchangeable

Conformity may be craven, but it is a powerful and common survival strategy throughout nature. “Blending into the herd” works often enough. But for many reasons, conformity fails in the long run.

Why? Because in imitating the crowd, the conformist becomes interchangeable with every other member of that crowd. If he is lost, it is no great loss – he is standing right next to his replacement. So his conformity may buy him safety in the moment, but it will hide any advantage he might offer to the group/person presenting a danger to him.

The nonconformist on the other hand takes a big risk of being killed or otherwise eliminated. But in standing out, he clearly establishes a unique sense of value. Think of the “crazy” artistic genius, the brilliant political dissident, the rogue inventor and entrepreneur. He may have ups and downs in the short term due to his intransigence, but he will also be seen as someone harder to replace, and in that sense his safety may improve over that of the nonconformist.

Whether or not you choose to be a conformist might depend on your idea of safety. It’s true that the conformist may never be killed, but in hiding in the group he may also miss his opportunities to reproduce, or to leave some other kind of mark in the world. This is an extinction event all its own. The nonconformist may risk short-term discomfort or even destruction, but in the long run his works are more irreplaceable and therefore held with more care by the rest of the world.

This has practical implications.

Communities that try to become like every other community – say, by adding a bunch of fast food restaurants – will be interchangeable, ultimately replaceable, and ultimately not maintained by their citizens. A community with hundreds-years old churches and buildings and memory will last. Anything else you wish to preserve should follow this principle and be unafraid to stand out.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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“You Always Think You’re Right!”

I once had someone tell me something along these lines, delivered as a sort of condemnation.

This is one of the trickier attacks a person can make on your character. It’s effective because it makes you seem like an arrogant person. Broken down, though, it doesn’t make much sense.

By definition, you believe your beliefs are correct, or else you wouldn’t hold them. You may understand and acknowledge at a meta level that you are probably wrong about some of them, but this doesn’t change the fact that you sincerely think your individual beliefs are correct, or as correct as they can be.

This is true of every human being, and it is true of the accuser as well.

We always think *we* are right, even if we know we (statistically speaking) won’t always hit the target. And I have no moral obligation to discount my beliefs because you hold yours strongly, just as you have no obligation to discount yours for me. Morality does not come into play, and character is not at question. The only question should be “can you convince me otherwise?”

If you cannot convince me to change my mind, you bet I will continue to think I am right. And I won’t feel guilty for that.

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People Responsible for Own Actions

You bear no guilt for things you had no part in. Don’t accept guilt you didn’t earn.

I’m not going to blame you for things you have no control over, nor will I accept blame for the same sort of things. We have no control over who our ancestors were, what happened before we were born, the color of our skin, or what other people who have no real connection to us choose to do.

You aren’t guilty because people in history did bad things. You aren’t guilty when someone who shares your “race” did something bad. You aren’t to blame if someone you don’t associate with does something wrong. Those are not your fault. Don’t accept blame on their behalf. It’s not healthy. You are only guilty for any wrong you have personally done.

It’s completely different if you choose to join a group known for violating life, liberty, and property. By choosing to join — and remaining a member — you are endorsing what they do, and in that case, you have personally committed a wrong.

You won’t change the gang from the inside, even if that’s your noble plan. You will be changed. From the moment you join you share in the guilt of every act any members commit in the name of the group you choose to be a part of. If you join or passively support those who actively violate the life, liberty, and property of others you share their guilt. Choose wisely.

You can absolve yourself by quitting and denouncing the group and its activities. I suggest doing so immediately.

Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Your first responsibility is to not violate anyone else. You can’t be responsible for what people you don’t control and have no real influence over do. Does anyone imagine you control anyone besides yourself?

Unless you openly side with people who are doing bad things I’m going to assume you’re not on their team. I’d rather think the best of you. This means I may say something in your presence against the people doing bad stuff. Take this as the compliment it is.

I don’t support holding history against people who weren’t alive then, or who were too young to change anything. I’m for forgiving past offenses and I am not a fan of punishment. I’d much rather see you doing the right thing than to look for ways to blame and punish you for doing wrong.

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Billionaires in a Free Market

Someone else having a billion dollars does no harm to you.

It very likely makes their life harder – not materially, but emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically – but it does nothing to make you worse off. If you feel less happy because you envy them, that is not caused by their billion dollars, but by your choice to judge yourself in dollars and against another person. That’s an unhappiness only you can fix by changing your orientation.

It is possible that someone obtained a billion dollars through violence. The most likely scenario is via collaboration with government, as it would be very difficult and very rare to do so violently without at least some state cooperation. Gaining wealth via government, which is always backed by the initiation of violence, causes harm to the world. Taxpayers and those prohibited from peaceful activity by monopoly protections are harmed.

But notice it’s the acts of theft and violence that do the harm, not the billion dollars itself. The having of the billion does not by itself cause harm, only if the process of obtaining it did. Then the problem is with that process, not the money.

One could use a billion dollars to do harmful things, like buy weapons to hurt people. But then the hurting of the people is doing the harm, not the holding or spending of the billion dollars.

There is no way in which another person having possession of a billion dollars can harm you. Outside the peaceful free market they may cause harm in obtaining it or use it to cause harm.

But if they obtained it via market means (no violence, just voluntary exchange) and use it on the market (again peacefully), not only does someone else getting, holding, or spending a billion dollars do the world no harm, it does tremendous good and creates value.

The only way to obtain money (absent force) is to take a resource valued at X, do something to it, and exchange it with someone who values it at >X. The > is the profit you earn, and also a measure of the minimum amount of value that was created. Value that did not exist prior to the exchange.

Even those who earn billions by investing in companies and then “doing nothing” while the company gains value are creating value. Not only by providing capital that the company needs to earn profit (create value), but the process of investing itself is so full of efforts and failures that it generates untold new information that makes the market better and better and innovating and creating new value. The billions earned on a few winning investments pale in comparison to the untold benefit created by all the failed investments that pushed ideas and products forward and created priceless info about what works and doesn’t.

So billionaires in a free market are no threat, and their wealth is likely a sign of tons of value created for you and others. This doesn’t make them morally good people or intellectual adept or fun or kind or anything else. It just means their existence is no threat and how they got their created benefit for others, intentionally or not.

Billionaires in an unfree market don’t harm you by mere fact of having a billion dollars, but they way they got it or what they use it for could.

Fight for freedom, not against others having arbitrary amounts of money.

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The Problems We Must Solve Are Too Important to Reduce to Left vs. Right Politics

When considering a way forward, the discussion initially seems to be complicated because there are a lot of things that have gone wrong in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic death.

Looting is wrong. Blaming the wrong people for looting is wrong. Using the wrongness of looting to drown out discussions about what preceded the looting is wrong. All of the aforementioned things are wrong, but the key to finding a solution lies in identifying a more subtle form of wrong that blinds us to the answers we need.

And that is the tendency to reduce discussions about race and riots to the same old “Left vs. Right” talking points.

Not only is this also wrong, but it’s a form of being wrong that condemns us to a cycle of repeating our past mistakes.

If our underlying framework for discussing solutions is wrong, then everything that follows will be wrong as well.

We don’t need to pretend that the battle between Left vs. Right is unreal or unimportant, but we do need to remember that this battle is a manifestation of a broader and more fundamental battle between Freedom versus Force, Creativity versus Coercion, and Central Planning versus Voluntary Markets that allow all individuals to opt-in and opt-out of services based on their basic human right to decide for themselves what their preferences and priorities should be.

As everyone searches frantically for a specific group or political figure to blame, lovers of liberty are being presented with an opportunity to take the conversation beyond the familiar mudslinging at personalities and parties.

Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Milton Friedman wrote:

I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either…

The message here is apropos for our times:

Trust incentives more than individuals.

This applies to corporations and governments. This applies to leftist organizations and right-wing organizations. This applies to the religious and the secular. This applies to academia and entrepreneurship. The basic economic principle that “people respond to incentives” applies to us all.

If the incentives of a system are bad, even the work of those who mean well is compromised.

If the incentives of a system are good, we don’t have to place so much faith in our ability to always see things the same way.

The way we’re going to move forward in this world is not by finding a person who’s good enough to make bad systems work, but by investing in systems that incentivize even the bad people to make themselves accountable to creating value for others. And we know of no other system like that than the free market.

The world is more ready than ever to hear from voices who are willing to show them something that offers meaning, healing, and hope in times of conflict and crisis.

There is no better time for us to show those who are hurting how much the free market creates and delivers even when their enemies condemn and disagree.

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