Hedgehogs and the Great Depression of 2030

The “Thinking Like a Fox” metaphor is best applied against people that make extreme predictions with high degrees of uncertainty and little historical precendent. To wit: MIT researchers predict “Next Great Depression”in 2030 because of a lack of resources. Freakanomics has a great response:

The same folks who stunned the world in 1972 with a prediction that economic growth would soon cease because of resource constraints are back again, predicting resource constraints will lead to global depression in 2030.  Growth did not end by 1990, and it will not end in 2030.  As before, prices will change to make economizing on increasingly scarce resources good business policy; and, as before, technology will change to lead businesses and consumers to substitute away from relatively scarce resources.

The interesting question is why this same nonsense continues to get so much attention.  Is it that people forget the absurdities of the past arguments? Or do we have a substantial, never-satisfied demand for schadenfreude? Regardless, this stuff is just as bad economics as it was when The Limits of Growth first appeared.

It’s not that we don’t face challenges in the decades ahead or that another Great Depression is impossible – it’s just that the logic behind the prediction (scarcity of resources) has been a popular argument since Malthus, and it hasn’t been right since then.

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About thinklikeafox

I'm a Naval Officer living in Southern California. I hope to be attending law school in the next year or two, and I started writing this blog out of a desire to improve my writing and critical thinking skills after a couple years outside of academia.
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3 Responses to Hedgehogs and the Great Depression of 2030

  1. ComoKate says:

    “It’s not that we don’t face challenges in the decades ahead or that another Great Depression is impossible – it’s just that the logic behind the prediction (scarcity of resources) has been a popular argument since Malthus, and it hasn’t been right since then.”…

    True, perhaps, but never before did we live in a finite world of 6 billion people ( and growing).

    • We’ve always lived in a finite world, and it’s true that our population is ballooning. My issue with these predictions is that they’ve been made consistently for the last century-plus. Writing in the late 1700s/early 1800s, Malthus could never have conceived of a world that fed 2 billion people, much less the 7 billion we (mostly) feed today. The technology to make the technology to make the technology needed to feed that many people hadn’t been invented yet.

  2. Gary Lantrip says:

    That technology may never be invented. Unless there’s some sort of miracle breakthrough, fusion power is at least 50 years away, Same for widespread solar. It seems to be human nature to stand on the brakes just before we goover the cliff. ‘m at an age thatit doesn’t matter, but I would like for my son and two twenty-something granddaughters to have at least an average lifespan.

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