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The doom industry

We were eating a ploughman's lunch in a Somerset pub when we read Charles Moore's review of Matt Ridley's new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. . Moore writes -

Each chapter of Matt Ridley's magnificent book begins with a simple graph. Each graph illustrates how much some important aspect of our lives is improving. . .

Even trends that terrify us are not what people imagine. The percentage increase in world population in 1965-70 was two per cent. From 2000-2005, it was 1.25 per cent. Air-pollutant emissions (such as carbon monoxide) from the United States are markedly lower than they were in 1990.

For Matt Ridley, it is important to state such facts because he identifies a huge industry in our culture of gloomy prediction. The penalty for predicting disaster which does not happen is surprisingly small. The anti-population guru, Paul Ehrlich, claimed that "US life expectancy will drop to 42 years by 1980, due to cancer epidemics", and that, "In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death". He was preposterously wrong, but today he is still publishing, still doom-saying, still revered. . .

If you are like us, you may be pessimistic about people's ability to accurately interpret facts. We're not certain of Ridley's facts, or his interpretation of them, but our reading has convinced us that in 1820 most of the world's peoples lived in extreme poverty. Due to the free economy, created by Brits and Americans, and copied by other peoples who made their own innovations, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell by 25%, or 500 million people in the last 30 years alone, according to the World Bank. To us that seems a positive development.

Richard North and Christopher Booker have already written knowledgeably about the doom industry. Their book is Scared to Death: From BSE To Global Warming - How Scares Are Costing Us The Earth.

Perhaps the doom-mongers are psychologically related to people who like to tell us we are all going to hell?

They like the big profits they earn from their false prophecies, too.

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