Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

Related Post Roulette

10 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    If you make predictions that electing Labor governments in the UK in the time after WW2 will lead to absolute servitude and serfdom, then its best to have devoted acolytes who will ignore any predictions which don’t come true.Report

  2. Avatar RTod says:

    meh… I think there is something different between saying you have reasoned out what bad thing will happen and then be proven wrong, and saying the Creator chose you above all others to deliver his Message or selective doom.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The ancient Hebrews had a fairly rigorous test for prophets.

    They wrote down what the prophet said. If the prophet was wrong, the prophet was put to death (because a prophet that came from God Himself would not get stuff wrong).

    This resulted primarily in prophets who knew enough about actuarial tables to make prophecies about events that would happen waaaaay in the future rather than “Saturday. Totally.”Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The prophets warn us of the consequences if we continue along the path of iniquity, always presenting some route to repentance. Could it be that Paul Ehrlich warned the world in time and thereby prevented the predicted disaster? He certainly scared the wits out of the intelligentsia of his own time.

    I have some experience with famines, dealing with refugees. Niger Republic is prone to famine and endured a nasty crop failure combined with a plague of locusts. The signal characteristic of all famines is silence: the starving die, ignored and unheard. China’s great famines between 1958 and 1961 went completely unnoticed: China’s government covered them up. People are starving in North Korea, again, silence and repression allow famines to arrive.

    Since India achieved independence, it has never endured a famine, not because crops didn’t fail, but because the starving were heard. Before independence, children of my generation were told to eat their leftovers because children were starving in India. I would mutter under my breath, “well, send this liver to Calcutta, perhaps they might eat it.”

    Predictions depend upon trend analysis. I never liked Paul Ehrlich because he depended on straight-line calculations, completely ignoring the failures of previous Malthusian Doom ‘n Gloom Types. I remember arguing against Ehrlich’s conclusions years ago with some Do-Gooders who were doing famine relief. Parenthetically, you should know I loathe Do-Gooders: they come into situations they do not understand, not speaking the language, lacking respect for and asking no advice of the local people. All their schemes fail because they condescend to the local people and will not help them to help themselves.

    Now this was in the late 70s and the philanthropic world was contemplating Ehrlich’s conclusions with horror. We all understood the problem was overpopulation: India’s famines were well-understood from history and the story of China’s great famine was finally coming to light. Kerala, on the western coast of India, had been returning Communists to the Indian Parliament for decades: they are a rice-growing people and raising water from paddy to paddy up a steep hillside will inculcate collective labor into any culture. But why was Kerala’s population stabilizing where China’s population, another rice-growing culture, was not? China had a draconian one-child policy and still it was in trouble. What was the difference?

    Like all Communists, the people of Kerala educated both boys and girls. But in China, girls routinely got only six years of education. Kerala was educating them for 12. It seems, at the eleven year mark, a girl will have statistically fewer than two children. The best birth control scheme was a school, not a pill or a forced abortion.

    Ehrich failed because he did not factor in human adaptability and the power of education. The poor are not stupid. Show me a famine and I will show you a failed regime, suppressing information, silencing its critics, failing to provide for its people.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Adam Smith once said that it took government to turn dearth into famine. Interestingly, the main thing he fingered as the cause of famine was laws banning price gouging, or “engrossment” as it was known in his day.Report

  5. The universes of Camping and Erhlich did actually end. Obviously. We just aren’t in those universes for obvious reasons. Haven’t you guys seen Donny Darko?Report