Disease & My Luddite Son

The Luddite Fallacy & Economics

The Luddite fallacy is the belief that labor-saving technologies cause unemployment.

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 !


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

21 responses to “Disease & My Luddite Son

  1. Cute Kid, sounds pretty bright too. The truth is he’s right though. There will be jobs lost. Even though there might be more created, that doesnt mean everybody is that capable of change. Some people are weavers and have a hard time learning something else.

  2. @ T4T
    Actually, the Luddite Fallacy is controversial. It is embraced as a Fallacy in Austrian School of economics — my favorite. Remember, it does not claim that a given individual will not loose a job and not be able to regain it, but it does a sort of utilitarian calculus where overall there will be more jobs and greater prosperity. Indeed, those unable to change can be hurt.

    But one must, take into consideration one more caveat. The technology, and the prosperity it brings, will create jobs for people who might have never found a job either. Thus, some inflexible individuals may loose jobs but also some people felt prior to be inflexible may now have jobs. So it cuts both ways.

    All to say, since the utilitarian calculus is positive AND though people may loose jobs and need social welfare, more people presently hopelessly on welfare will find jobs, thus there is not reason to stop technology which is labor-saving. Thus, the Luddite Fallacy is upheld.

    Could you see me waving my Austrian Economics flag? 🙂

    Any counters from the weaker schools of economics — like the pathetic Keynesians — which is where most liberal Atheists, often unconsciously, lie? 😉

  3. geoih

    Quote from Sabio Lantz: “… will create jobs for people who might have never found a job either.”

    The seen versus the unseen. Your Bastiat is showing.

    I would think anybody capable of being a weaver, would be capable of many things besides weaving, unless of course the government interferes.

  4. For readers: My on-line buddy and regular contributor, geoih, is a flaming Austrian Economy fan, whose intellectual depth puts me to shame on these subjects. He is referring to one of the founding fathers of Austrian Economics, Frédéric Bastiat.

    Great comment, geoih — thanx.

  5. I think a new Fallacy will need to be written, given that our economy has become global.
    From Wikipedia

    According to neoclassical economists, labour-saving technologies will increase output per worker and thus the production of goods, causing the costs of goods to decline and demand for goods to increase. As a result, the demand for workers to produce those goods will not decrease.

    The cost of goods is declining, alright. But the demand for workers is happening in China, India, Vietnam, The Philippines, etc., not in my neighbourhood.

    The Fallacy can, perhaps, still be rescued in that even if in North America not all of us have jobs and some earn less than before, our money now can go a lot farther, depending on where we shop.

    I still think that the North American economy may never be the same again. Poorer countries are becoming richer (praise “god”) and rich countries are becoming poorer. It is almost as if things are sort of “flattening.”

  6. @ Loretta
    This will be a long economic discussion. You quoted one of the objections to the Luddite Fallacy — but there are replies. Maybe geoih would like to reply. Hope you liked the story about my son’s insights. I might get into longer replies later but not right now — got to be in the mood. And tackling economics is tough — it is like religion. You have to decide upon terms and slowly take a lot of stuff from the ground up. Tough to do and I am not much motivate right now. I know how divisive this is among the atheist community. So I am hoping geoih could jump in.

  7. Boz

    Gosh darn [edited] Madagascar, always ruining my plans when playing Pandemic.

    Madagascar Cartoon

  8. Madagascar is my the curse of everyone who plays Pandemic. Too isolates.

    Speaking of Madagascar: I think they also have some marsupials that don’t exist on Africa. Amazing how continental shift (geology), paleontology and genetics all dove tail to reconfirm Evolution again and again.

  9. geoih

    Quote from Lorena: “I still think that the North American economy may never be the same again. Poorer countries are becoming richer (praise “god”) and rich countries are becoming poorer. It is almost as if things are sort of “flattening.” ”

    When has the “economy” ever been the same as in the past? The “economy” is an ever changing web of relationships between individuals pursuing their own best interests.

    The benefits of the international labor market are manifested through lower prices for products for everybody. It is easy to see locally unemployed workers, for whatever reason they might be unemployed, but not so easy to see the lower prices paid by all of the people everywhere, including those presently unemployed.

    The main thing that is making everybody poorer is the continued and increasing plundering of wealth by government all over the world. When the government confiscates wealth, then that wealth can’t be used by the rightful owners for the things they consider important.

  10. I echo the Madagascar comments with frustration! And that cartoon is funny. So Madagascar survives and then recolonizes the whole world? Didn’t something like that happen to the human population at some point after a meteor event or something else catastrophic? Maybe the virus tool needs an avian option to take them out since the mosquitoes can’t seem to make the leap over…

  11. Hi,

    Just thought I’d stop by and say this looks a great blog (I followed a link from a comment you made at Exploring the matrix) and I’ve subscribed to your feed.


  12. geoih,

    You pretty muc repeated what I said in the second part of my comment.

    No, I don’t know how to fix the economy. That part I leave to you.

    For some reason I feel like I’m being treated like an iditot–which I’m not. Whatever!

  13. @ Lorena
    I am the idiot here, don’t even think about claiming that someone else is giving you credit for that. I am the idiot ! And let no one forget that !

    @ Richard
    Very glad to have your visit. Looking forward to corrective comments in the future. I have marked your site for following too.

    @ ATTR — you really need to play less video games !

  14. geoih

    Quote from Lorena: “No, I don’t know how to fix the economy. That part I leave to you.”

    Sorry if I offended you. I was simply trying to make my point.

    As for fixing the economy, I also have no interest in that. You might as well try to fix the weather or gravity. Those who claim they can, are deluding themselves (and any who might belief them).

  15. utilitarianism strikes again! haha! for the weavers it sucks… but not for those versed in new technology. those who can’t adapt go extinct. however, there are unseen consquences to any and all new movements… industrial revolution and polution. the sewing industry with the intial unregulated and unsafe working conditions. we learn, we do better in the best circumstances.

    things i learned from this post:

    1. become a transhumanist


    2. move to Madagascar.

    knowing how we still can’t get windows 7 to work properly… i’ll go with #2.

  16. Great idea, Luke. You could start a “germ-a-phobe” nation in Madagascar where all your people only use stone age tools !! Sounds enticing !

  17. stone age?! that sounds awfully advanced from where i’m working at. 😉

  18. Passing by nearly 3 years later, I was struck by the ideas of value expressed in the conversation between Sabio & Son. I would want to tell a nine-year old that a job may be just a way of redistributing wealth and may not create any.

  19. @ Vincent
    These posts are always open and I love new visitors. Some other readers may still be listening too.
    But I must say, your comment was a little to terse to decode.
    Spreading, sharing and amplifying resources (wealth) can be very useful. So you must mean something else.

  20. Sorry, I was terse in order to avoid being prolix, & opening a can of worms. But I take your response as an invitation, so I shall be a little less terse.

    I find I have a great deal of sympathy with Ned Lud. I shall sidestep your interpretation, that Lud has anything to do with a fallacy whereby labour-saving technologies cause unemployment. I worked in the computer industry starting in 1965, and remember in my training an evening lecture when this point was discussed. We all, including the lecturer, thought it must be true, but we never knew how much employment is created by the mere fact of everyone having a computer on the desk, or in the pocket. You can spend your entire work-day reading and writing emails. In 1965, you had a pen and a lined pad. You got the secretary to type memos. There was no fax, no calculators.

    Technology has not only created employment, it has created the need for employment to give you the bank balance to buy the things that technology produces and dumps on you with the aid of obsolescence and advertising.

    In the UK, but more especially countries like Scandinavia, the state offers money to the unemployed, so this helps to calm the vicious circle where we must have more and more growth so as to provide jobs so as to consume the products of those jobs till simple living in harmony with nature becomes invisible, because everything is seen through the lenses of consumerist propaganda.

    So if we are talking about wealth, the greatest wealth is to see, adore and cherish (preserve) the gifts that are there already: “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

    But there is a dignity in the work of our hands, the skills honed over a lifetime. I like to think that this is what motivated Ned Lud, for it was clear even then that the Industrial Revolution was creating jobs, for villages turned into cities as the Dark Satanic Mills referred to by Blake belched out their dark smoke.

    Technology has a way of wiping out respect for human dignity, or even wiping it off the map of consciousness. Science has a way of wiping out respect for the imaginative ideas formed in the days when people did not know what we know now.

    I have no religion, though I respect it, and probably have a religious attitude, if no particular allegiance.

    There. End of sermon.

  21. @ Vincent
    Ah, gottcha. “Technology” is a funny word — an abstraction, and thus slippery. Anthropologists reveal the development of very early technologies: stone hammers, bows, dyes and more. Each step, in your world, seems like a defacement of nature. I disagree. But I understand what you long for and think it not to be the fault of technology but the fault of an animal that knows little balance.

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