In defense of pessimism

Aretae is ripping on pessimism – thanks in part to Matt Ridley’s book.

Libertarians like to view progress one dimensionally, just like progressives. However, each group uses a different dimension.

Progressives use social justice (for lack of better term) as their dimension. For example, today is better than the ’40s because black people couldn’t vote then, or something. If you disagree with progressives, you’re a racist.

Libertarians use technological progress as their dimension. For example, today is better than the ’40s because you had to get chicken pox, you couldn’t access the internet and it took a long time to do the laundry and the dishes back in the ’40s. If you disagree with libertarians, you’re a Luddite.

Yet can one study history and honestly conclude that there has no decline along any variable? For (a mainstream) example, we used to live in a country in which a guy like Thomas Jefferson could get elected president. Now, the finalists are John McCain and Barack Obama. Do you really see no decline? I don’t think it takes much to see the incredible fall in quality.

If you really believe that the quality of government in the US hasn’t declined in recent decades, you may be past the point of reasoning with. I freely admit that some things have gotten better, why is it so hard for libertarians and progressives to admit that anything might be getting worse?

3 Responses to In defense of pessimism

  1. aretae says:

    2 things are getting better:

    1. Economic means. Growth is unambiguously, dramatically up, and rather monotonically positive over the last 2 centuries, everywhere there were property rights and small government. Even given great depressions and world wars.

    2. Liberty. Postive liberty (the ability to actually do stuff, not just do stuff in theory) is up massively, for almost everyone over 2 centuries.

    And you know what I think about growth…it causes almost all other good things (environment, liberty, etc.)

    Government, on the other hand, has grown immensely, and that is bad. It’s sucking substantial quantities of growth, almost stalling the engine. This is real bad.

    Sometime near the 1970s, growth pushed us out of the 10000 year old agrarian tradition of productive men get women to the older >10000 year hunter-tradition of status gets women, but with much better psych-tech. This is scary and unpredictable, given that the nuclear family has been the stable social unit for 10,000 years.

    The line is … once you factor economic growth and (positive) liberty growth … the life we lead is, as has been constant for 250+ years, FAR better than that of our fathers. Not that there are no problems, but that the benefits of those 2 factors in the present are so far in advance of the problems as to be mind-boggling.

    In the 1940s, the rate of violence was substantially higher than it is now, a huge pile of people died in the 2nd world war, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were all killing people at rates that made the wars seem chump change. Sure…we have some problems now. But they’re nothing compared to the problems of the 1940s.

    • Foseti says:

      I don’t understand how you compare “liberty” from one generation to the next. Especially, when you talk about *positive* liberty.

      People with no money have better access to schools and healthcare . . . because others are forced to pay for their use of those services. Liberty up or down? I’d say down.

      Plus, positive liberty opens the door to all sorts of other stuff: crime rates, rudeness, aesthetics, etc.

  2. […] – “My Beef with Liberal-Tarianism“, “In Defense of Pessimism“, “More […]

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