Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Pessimist Problem

Ian Welsh:
There are a lot of organizations you want run by pessimists (for example, nuclear reactors.)  The sort of people who have posters proclaiming “Murphy was an optimist” on their walls.  The sort of people who told the Japanese how to fix their reactors in the 80s, who had they been listened to, would have avoided an meltdown.
But the problem with such people is that they run themselves out of jobs.  They make prophecies, scare people, get the problems fixed, and so their prophecies don’t happen.  Absent major disasters for long enough, people become complacent and decide they don’t need to spend money, time and trouble on the warnings of fools whose prophecies never come true.  They look at all the money they can save, or make, by getting rid of regulations, gutting inspections and running without precautions, and they realize that that even if something bad happens, the odds of them being held accountable are infinitesimal.  After all, when the Japanese financial bubble burst, senior people committed suicide.....And so, in the US, you have the Iraq war, Katrina, the great financial collapse, weather disaster after weather disaster without anything being done to protect against the next one. You have the near-absolute certainty of a billion or more incremental deaths from climate change, the near-certainty of drought in large parts of the world, the near-certainty of dust-bowls, and on and on.
I think the folks running things are a lot better off if people have so many problems in their daily lives that they are too distracted to pay attention to all the big issues those guys are fucking up on.  Unfortunately, that leaves them free to loot until We the People get stuck with the bill.  A very pedestrian example of this phenomenon, which he mentions somewhat, is Glass-Steagle.  The rules prevented too-big-to-fail for 60 years, but banksters could get much richer by getting rid of the rule.  So they did, and we got a disaster in less than 10 years.  Unfortunately, we no longer seem to get anybody who will actually fix things, so we are looking at an unending cycle of disasters.

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