Why, at a certain age (mine), do we get so exercised about things that are going wrong?
It's strange, because personally I'm unlikely to be much affected now- let the world go to hell if it wants to, by then I'll be past caring anyway. And a part of me thinks it will serve rising generations jolly well right if they don't wake up soon! But I-told-you-so's are never as much fun as they promise to be, even posthumously I expect. It's also strange that when I was younger I took many more risks than I'm comfortable with now- although back then I had much more life expectancy to lose. Evolutionary theory no doubt provides explanations for these things, but knowing why wouldn't have stopped my younger self seeking out so many near death experiences, and nor will it stop my wanting the world to survive and prosper now.
Three trends that need to be unwound if our children's children are not to inherit a dystopian world:
The first is economic.
The enviable lives of those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world are a direct result of productivity gains (getting more done in the hours available). From around 150 years ago with steam power, and then internal combustion engines, the percentage of our populations engaged in the growing and distribution of food dropped from nearly 90% to less than 10%. Mechanisation of farming and transport, together with stock and crop breeding, explain nearly all the improvements in living standards we've enjoyed since the 18th century. But there's another element to this; if instead of applying these productivity gains to providing better government, infrastructure, education, health, and businesses, our forebears had chosen to work less and play more, we'd now be no better off than they were back then. Fortunately, they forewent luxuries and leisure so that our lives could be better- and this effect is cumulative. If, for 100 years, NZers had spent just 2% (of gdp) more on leisure and luxuries each year, instead of applying this surplus to useful activities (like research and development for example), our economy would be just 1/6th the size it is now - putting us just above Libya by gdp/capita.
Productivity gains are still being made; containerisation has hugely reduced the cost of shipping, automation is really getting into its stride, the internet and cell phones are a massive gain. But we're no longer 'banking' these gains; they're being dissipated before they even show up in statistics.
Productivity has become a dirty word, the meme is now 'work/life balance'- which is just a way of saying 'I want to work less and play more'. The silly idea that we can get more done by working less hours is also widely touted and has become enshrined in law in some countries, even though we all know that the most productive (and therefore most successful) people in all spheres of life, work every hour that they're not sleeping, sometimes for years without a break.
And there is an almost total failure to understand that regulations are not cost free. Regulations with costs far in excess of their benefits have become a marker of our times and are a huge drain on productivity, as anyone who has recently built a house will attest to.
For our children's children to enjoy lives as good or better than ours- we need to stop deluding ourselves that we can have more while working less and we must stop believing that the solution to every perceived problem is another law.
The second is the inexorable growth of social welfare expenditure.
200 years ago, social welfare (charity) was mainly provided by churches and was minimal. By 1980, social welfare costs in the OECD had risen to 14% of gdp (average). It is now 21%- and rising.
Demand for social welfare seems to be almost unlimited, and at some level will become unaffordable for even the wealthiest countries.
Unfortunately, there are mechanisms (apart from demand) causing it to ratchet ever upwards.
One is (using NZ as an example again), that by 2016, >70% of us received more from the State than we paid in. Consequently, any policy initiative that proposes more benefits tends to get voter support, as does any initiative that increases taxes on the remaining 25%. Another derives from the cognitive bias by which we tend to make decisions based on the personal and emotional rather than the logical and sensible. When someone cries on television, we feel sympathetic and want the government to fix their problem for them- which it does. But very often, solving this one person's problem enables many thousands of others to get more for doing less- which they accept with gratitude initially, but later with a sense of entitlement. About the only way to de-rail this train is with a population who understand that money to pay for social support services has first to be earnt by someone, and that there is a limit to how much they are willing and able to contribute. Unfortunately, rising generations in the West seem to believe that governments have a bottomless bucket. What will they do when they discover that this is not so- when the few remaining taxpayers finally collapse under the weight? If Venezuela is any indication, they will still not understand that at some percentage, which Western countries must already be close to, redistributionist policies don't alleviate poverty, they cause it.
And the third is a slide into restricting the contestability of policies and ideas; free speech. This phenomenon is worldwide,
and has now trickled down to New Zealand: A retired leader of NZ's largest political party (typically 45% support) was recently banned from speaking at one of our state funded universities because his views do not accord with the far left views of the vice chancellor:
Freedom of expression underpins the unprecedented prosperity and personal freedoms of more than a billion people in the developed world. It does this by allowing those wanting to influence public opinion to put forward almost any ideas they favour, which are then judged by the broader population and supported or rejected - and ridiculed when they're really bad. For all its faults this provides the best system of government that has yet been found and was hard won against strenuous resistance:
From rulers who don't want their incompetence to be exposed, or their authority challenged.
From churches with dogmas that may not be questioned- even when they cause immense suffering.
And from ideologues who believe they know what's best for everyone, even when millions die as a result.
A turning point in its development was the Reformation (16th and 17th century Europe), when Catholics and Protestants fought themselves to a standstill; both committing atrocities against human decencies that should have soured everyone on religions forever. Peace was eventually brokered in the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) by which church and state were separated and citizens were granted broad freedom to hold and express whatever beliefs they chose to. Called the Peace of Westphalia, this later informed the US constitution's 1st amendment (free speech) and similar laws in all other Western countries. The exceptions that have evolved are laws against saying untrue things about someone (slander, libel when its written), matters of national security, yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre, and inciting crowds to riot. Otherwise, within broad limits, people may say and write whatever they like, including criticising rulers.
Until recently. Starting from barely 20 years ago, so called "hate speech" crimes have been created, usually defined as saying something that someone else may take offence to. That what you say may be true is not a defence. It is an attempt by a particular ideology (the far Left) to impose its vision of how the world should be organised. "Hate speech" is therefore typically characterised as criticisms of this ideology, but not its reverse.
I don't understand why it's being accepted so meekly: Has history faded so rapidly that people think making everyone bow to this ideological line will lead to a brave new world? Have we forgotten that silencing people's genuinely held beliefs engenders resistance that is far worse than allowing dissenters to speak- as the Catholic Church found out 500 years ago? It's possible that our legal systems are robust enough to resist attempts to apply these new laws against only one side in the current debate.
But even if evenly applied, preventing people from expressing their opinions is a thoroughly bad idea and will send this world to hell.
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON, NEW ZEALAND, OCTOBER 1 '18