… is from page 128 of the late Hans Rosling’s 2018 book, Factfulness; it’s from a chapter titled “The Size Instinct”:
You tend to get things out of proportion. I do not mean to sound rude. Getting things out of proportion, or misjudging the size of things, is something that we humans do naturally. It is instinctive to look at a lonely number and misjudge its importance. It is also instinctive … to misjudge the importance of a single instance or identifiable victim. These two tendencies are the two key aspects of the size instinct.
The media is this instinct’s friend. It is pretty much a journalist’s professional duty to make any given event, fact, or number sound more important than it is. And journalists know that it feels almost inhuman to look away from an individual in pain.
DBx: In this book, Rosling doesn’t mention Bastiat. But Rosling here describes the distortions in people’s perceptions that many of us classify under the heading “what is seen and what is not seen.” Anyone blind to the unseen focuses only on what is seen. It is what is seen that is addressed. Action is taken on the basis only of what is seen.
But that which is seen is often only a tiny feature of a much larger group, the bulk of which is invisible. And so actions that appear to be admirable and compassionate – because these are aimed at changing for the better that which is seen – are in fact often harmful because these actions are taken without knowledge of the larger group.
Home-country workers who lose their jobs to imports are seen; so tariffs help them. Protectionists are applauded for their intentional humanity. Home-country workers (and foreign workers) who lose jobs because of these tariffs, and consumers whose real incomes are reduced because of higher prices, are unseen. Protectionists are not derided for their unintentional cruelty.
Paid leave required by government is seen; the resulting reductions in other forms of compensation, and the greater difficulty of many workers to get jobs as goods as possible for them, are unseen.
Workers whose wages are pushed up by minimum-wage statutes are seen. Workers rendered unemployed or who suffer worse employment conditions are unseen.
People suffering and dying from covid-19 are seen and easily filmed. And while some of the damage done by the hysteria and lockdowns is seen – for example, shuttered stores and unemployed workers – much of the damage is unseen. The people who suffer and die from other ailments because access to medical care was made unnecessarily difficult by the lockdowns – the new businesses not created – the friendships in school not made – the stream of anti-social consequences that will long haunt us now that so many of us regard other human beings as carriers of death – the inevitable abuse into the future of the malignant eruption of arbitrary state power – all this and much more is unseen.