The Luddite Fallacy & Economics
The fallacy of this belief is that though indeed labor-saving technology does take away someone’s job, it also creates many more jobs to compensate for the job loss. The word developed in the 1800s when knitting machines first came out and knitters began to lose their jobs. But as production increased, prices fell and with more purchases, other industries prospered and more jobs were created.
The fallacy was named after Ned Lud who was a weaver who damaged some looms and was later fictionalized into the leader of the movement to resist the mechanization of looms.
The Luddite fallacy is not a classic fallacy but instead it is a common mistaken economic assumption. Indeed the challenge of understanding economics is to see beyond many common economics intuitions which are wrong. The same is true when trying to understand religion — our intuition modules do not reveal extremely trustworthy conclusions. As I have often written, the human mind is not built to understand complicated truths.
Ludditism & Vaccines
On Sunday morning, I took my son (9 years old — 4th grade) to a local coffee shop at 7 a.m. For our first 30 minutes, we agreed that he would read his book on Dragons and I would read mine on Kant. Then we broke out our new, fun, award-winning, board game of Pentago (he beat me), and next he played an on-line educational game of Pandemic II while I went back to Kant. The player’s goal in Pandemic II is to build an organism which can annihilate all humans on the planet. Meanwhile, the program is trying to stop you by having humans build a vaccine. It sounds like a bad game for children but it has many redemptive features. For instance, it ironically it helps the player learn how to avoid disease by how it spreads and how dangerous it is. It also teaches lots of great biology terms, evolutionary concepts and global public health issues.
After playing Pandemic II for a while, my son sat with me and chatted. He said, “You know Dad, vaccines could become bad if we become too good at them. If we start wiping out disease, lots of people will lose their jobs.” I laughed but quickly thanked him for his thoughtfulness because he worried that I (his Dad, as a health care worker) would lose my job if there were no disease and suffering. I told him how this was sort of a Luddite fallacy. We looked up Luddites on Wiki and he actually understood the fallacy.
“Yes, if disease is wiped out, many people would lose their jobs, but many other jobs would take their place as we prospered more” I told him. He understood, but bless his heart, he persisted in his argument. He still felt rather sympathetic with disease and defended it saying further, “But without disease we would have too many humans on the planet and that would make life worse for everyone.”
With this, my son showed he understood the Hindu understanding of Shiva as the blessed destructive side of the Godhead. Should I worry and start saving up for his future therapist? Should I stop letting him play Pandemic? Or maybe I will just enjoy the ride as I watch as his interesting and creative mind keeps unfolding !