Posts tagged ‘New Economics Foundation’

Repeating the Same Mistake, Over and Over

Flowing Data draws my attention to this nutty chart in the New Scientist  (I have never read the New Scientist, but my experience is that in periodicals one can generally substitute "Socialist" for the word "New").  Click to enlarge.

Will the world really run out of Indium in 5 years?  Of course not.  New sources will be found.  If they are not, then prices will rise and a) demand with be reduced and b) efforts to find new sources will be redoubled.  Push come to shove, as prices rise too much, substitutes will be found (which is why John D. Rockefeller probably saved the whales).  Uranium is a great example -- sure, proved reserves are low right now, but companies that mine the stuff know that there is tons out there.  That is why they are going out of business, there is too much supply for the demand.  Any spike in price would immediately generate tons of new developed resources.  And even if we run out, there are enormous quantities of thorium which is a potential substitute in reactors.

Absolutely no one who was old enough to be paying attention to the news in the 1970s could have missed charts very similar to this.  I remember very clearly mainstream articles that we would run out of oil, titanium, tungsten, etc. by the early 1990's.  Seriously, name one commodity we have plain run out of (*cough* Julian Simon *cough*).

People say, well, the resources have to be finite and I would answer, "I suppose, but given that we have explored and mined about 0.000001% of the Earth's crust and none of the floating mineral reservoirs in space (called asteroids), I think we are a long, long way from running out."

You would think that the guys running this analysis would get tired of being so wrong so consistently for so many decades, but in fact their real point is not about resources but about the US and capitalism.  The point of the chart is not really to say that the world will credibly run out of tungsten, but to tell the world that it is time to get out their pitchforks because the US is stealing all their wealth and resources.  It is an age-old zero-sum wealth fallacy that has never held any water, but remains a powerful talking point among socialists none-the-less.

For socialists, wealth is not created by man's mind and his effort -- it is a spring in the desert with a fixed flow rate.  It just exists to be taken or fought over.  The wealthy, by this theory, have not earned their wealth, they are just the piggy ones who crowd to the front of the line and take more than their share from the spring.  Unfortunately, socialists have never been able to explain why the spring, which flowed so constantly (and so slowly) for thousands of years, suddenly burst forth with a veritable torrent in lockstep with the growth of capitalism in the west.  And why it seems to dry up in countries that adopt socialism.

Postscript: A while back I posted on the New Economics Foundation  (remember what I said about "New") and their claim the world had just gone into ecological debt.

Great Example of Zero-Sum Thinking

In perhaps the best example I have seen since Paul Ehrlich of zero-sum thinking, junkscience.com links to this article at the BBC:

A study by the New Economics Foundation (Nef) and the
Open University says 16 April is the day when the nation goes into
"ecological debt" this year.

It warns if annual global consumption levels matched the UK's, it would take 3.1 Earths to meet the demand.

How many times does this sort of stuff have to be wrong before it stops getting printed by "science writers" in the media.  Malthus made the same argument over a century ago, and Ehrlich has been making one bad prediction after another along these lines since the late 60's  The report relies on this concept:

The findings are based on the concept of "ecological
footprints", a system of measuring how much land and water a human
population needs to produce the resources it consumes and absorb the
resulting waste.

Of course, no one mentions that this "ecological footprint" number has changed dramatically with technology, not only in the last 200 years but even in the last 30.  For example, total US Farm acreage has fallen for the last fifty years, while agricultural production has grown between two and five times in the same period.   Its a stupid, meaningless analysis that says that if nothing else changed, and suddenly consumption went up, there would be a crisis.  It relies on the lack of imagination of both the authors (and to an extent, the audience), arguing that since they can't think of any way to grow production any further, it must not be possible.  I can just picture these guys as prehistoric man sitting in a cave making the same pronouncements of disaster for the species, all while their peers are busy outside playing with bone tools under the big black monolith.

More on the zero-sum fallacy here.