Tell me if you’ve heard any of these before:

“Automation is destroying jobs, and before long we’ll have massive unemployment.”

“Runaway population growth will soon exceed our ability to feed everyone.”

“We are facing a bee apocalypse due to Colony Collapse Disorder. Crops will be wiped out, and mass starvation will set in.”

“If we don’t act now to reverse climate change, we’ll pass a “tipping point” beyond which we won’t be able to save the planet.”

I could go on and on. Doomsaying, of ecological and other forms, is never in short supply.

And not just from random schmucks on the Internet.

“I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.” — David Attenborough, 2009.

“[C]ollapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” — David Attenborough, 2018.

Attenborough is 93 years old. In his lifetime, the earth’s population has nearly quadrupled. In his lifetime, the number and fraction of people who’ve risen out of subsistence poverty is staggering. Even the lot of the “working poor” has advanced by leaps and bounds. He’s shown no recognition, choosing instead to continue his “warnings.”

Consider some past dismissive or negative predictions, that didn’t quite work out.

“The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — William Preece, British Post Office, 1876.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – William Orton, President of Western Union, 1876.

“Fooling around with alternating current (AC) is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” — Thomas Edison, 1889.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” – Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” — President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, 1903.

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” – Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre, 1911.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” – David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio, 1921.

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” – H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.” — Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project, 1944.

“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” — Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.” – Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube, 1957.

“The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.” — IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, 1959.

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” – Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a C, the idea must be feasible.” – A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp, ca 1965.

“There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio service inside the United States.” — T.A.M. Craven, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner, 1961.

“Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop.” — Time Magazine, 1966.

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” – Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), 1977.

Cellular phones will absolutely not replace local wire systems.” — Marty Cooper, inventor, 1981.

“I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” — Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, 1995.

“There’s just not that many videos I want to watch.” — Steve Chen, CTO and co-founder of YouTube, 2005.

“Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.'” — David Pogue, The New York Times, 2006.

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 2007.

What do all these have in common? A lack of vision, yes, but more importantly, a lack of faith in human ingenuity.

The evidence that humanity overcomes problems and obstacles, and relentlessly advances its condition and living standards, is overwhelming. Technology has always outpaced population growth, and there is no reason whatsoever to think that this trend won’t continue. In fact, there’s ample reason to think it’ll accelerate. Tech growth has a compound-interest quality about it, and population growth slows as societies become more first-world. Indeed, many first-world nations are experiencing dangerously low fertility rates – rates well below replacement. This wouldn’t be such a big deal were it not for the fact that those societies’ governments have built social security and welfare schemes that rely on growing populations for fiscal solvency.

Demonstrating that the one great obstacle to human advancement is… drum-roll… Government. Or, more specifically, too much government. Overtaxation and over-regulation are the biggest impediments to innovation and advancement.

Underlying most doomsayers’ prognostications lies one common element: the desire to control others. By warning us of impending disasters, they seek not only to encourage us to alter our behaviors, but to actually get us to cede control over our lives to them, so that they can coerce and impose the changes they’ve decided are necessary to avert dooms of various flavors. It’s why so many global warming alarmists reject nuclear power and geo-engineering as remedies. They don’t want us to continue living as we have been, so fixing things in a way that would leave our lives unmolested and unaltered doesn’t satisfy. This is evident in their persistent efforts to fold massive societal restructuring in with their global warming remedies.

Doomsaying feeds some people’s egos. Some love to be the bearers of bad news, to be the first to say “this is a problem,” and to be able to say “See! I was right!!” if their predictions come true. That they rarely do and routinely don’t doesn’t bother them.

I’ve got the opposite attitude when it comes to such matters. I have faith in human ingenuity. I think that problems – when they prove to be actual problems – get addressed. Not by government mandarins and control freaks, but by innovators. Like the kid who is solving the ocean plastic garbage problem. Or the beekeepers who are bringing hives around where they’re needed for pollinating. Or the scientists who genetically modified rice to address the Vitamin A deficiency that kills hundreds of thousands of children each year.

So, I feel confident in expecting that, should global warming become a real problem, human ingenuity will provide solutions. Should automation substantially reduce the number of manufacturing jobs available, other industries will arise to absorb workers.

The biggest obstacle? Those who get in innovators’ way. I.e. big government. In the immortal words of Vanilla Ice:

If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.

Have faith in the human drive to innovate. Trust free markets. They’ve always delivered, and they will do so again.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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