I’m reading a book about the economy. Well, more like skimming, now, because I don’t buy their argument. To wit, that the Fed’s actions with quantitative easing are setting up a massive bubble in the dollar, and another with U.S. government debt, which will cause the U.S economy to crash in short order. While this is within the realm of possibility, I’d give huge odds against it, and toward the fact that these authors, despite all the letters and credentials after their names, are either willfully ignoring the other side of the coin, or are so caught up in their own line of argument that it has become the only way that they can see the world, the lens through which all their information is filtered. Hmmm, I might be mixing my metaphors here. And this isn’t the place for expounding on monetary policy, so I’ll resist the urge. But here’s my blog-point-o’-the-day—we not only live in an world of information overload (related post: “Just Keep Pushing“), but much of that information is exaggeration, half-truth, poorly thought out, willfully biased, or just plain wrong. And just because someone is famous (or accomplished) or an “expert” doesn’t mean they’re right. Such people often have pet positions to defend (especially once they’ve published books, or have sponsors), and they get themselves into positions where their very livelihoods depend on holding fast to their ideas. (I see this in the field of education, all the time).
This is just as true when it comes to information about the environment. So many people, on the left and the right and in the middle, just don’t know what they’re talking about. I can’t even begin to recount all the things I’ve heard that fall into this vein. From the right—that global warming isn’t happening, that large-scale wind doesn’t actually make much power, that solar panels don’t make enough power to ever replace the power it took to make them, that electric vehicles are worse for the environment than gasoline-powered cars, that Germany’s 32 gigawatts of renewable power is somehow a disaster, that electric vehicles are deathtraps in an accident, that huge numbers of people die making batteries for the Prius, etc.
From the left, I hear diatribes and invective against globalism and markets, as if some sort of group-hug kumbaya-think is going to solve our problems. I see scare tactics and exaggeration, from Al Gore’s graphic of the U.S. east coast flooding in seconds in “An Inconvenient Truth”, to phrases about “cooking the planet” with reference to global warming. I often see a complete lack of realism, as with 350.org’s push to return atmospheric carbon to 350 ppm, as if that were even remotely possible. On the left there also seems to be a persistent blindness to the fact that economic development has lifted millions and millions from poverty (good article in The Economist), which may have added carbon to the air, but was probably a good trade-off nonetheless.
And in the middle, I read of well-meaning individuals extolling the virtues of future technology, or read magazine articles like the one in Popular Science entitled “American Energy Independence: Five clean technologies that will set us free”, which are barely worth the paper they’re printed on. It’s all fine to play up some interesting potential developments to sell some magazines, but the topic is a bit too important for such obfuscation.
The problem with this continuous onslaught of faulty information is that is becomes quite hard for most people to even have an opinion, or to know what direction to move in. My only real advice—read, and not just material from one end of the spectrum. The generalist has an advantage here; it’s breadth of knowledge, not depth, that helps one see the forest for the trees. And I’m not pretending to have all the answers. But one thing I do know is that a whole passel of people out there think that they have the answers, but don’t.