Alberto Mingardi remembers Vilfredo Pareto. Four slices:
Among the early modern cartographers of political irrationality was Vilfredo Pareto, who died one hundred years ago, on August 19, 1923. Born in 1848, that year of liberal hope (and revolution) across Europe, Pareto died after witnessing the liberal order’s demise and the tragedy of World War I. Nowadays, his name pops up most often in references to “Pareto optimality” (when no further action can be taken to benefit someone without harming someone else) or the “Pareto principle” (the idea that around 80% of outcomes stem from only 20% of causes).
As a young man, Pareto saw free trade as obviously beneficial to all, and military spending as detrimental to many. Yet his own country, Italy, moved away from free trade and embarked on extravagant, brutal colonial expansions. While Pareto was quick to diagnose this behavior as the result of influence by special interests, he wondered why so many other people went along with it.
The function of political ideologies, as Pareto saw it, was to put lipstick on a pig. The fundamental nature of politics is that somebody rules and many more obey – and not even democracy can change that.
Pareto saw “rationalism” as just another “intellectual religion,” and intellectuals as no less susceptible to pseudo-scientific creeds than anybody else. The next time you scroll through your social-media feed, consider whether all those advocating “right” causes have actually thought deeply about them. How many have actually read all the literature they cite, or engaged with opposing views? Often, what we think is contingent on our need to belong.
Pareto’s sketches of the world before WWI resemble the world we live in now. He saw financial engineering at the service of government as basically fraudulent; he ridiculed those who believed that taxes were a fee we pay for services; and he regarded inflation and public debt as instruments for “plundering” specific segments of the population.
It’s something of a counterintuitive claim, but history bears it out: The key to stanching conflict among groups with antagonistic commitments is not to force them all to adopt the same set of beliefs and practices, but precisely the reverse. People who are confident that their rights are secure from assault by competing factions will have far less of an incentive to engage in assault on competing factions.
Most scientific breakthroughs result from accidents that smart people recognize as important. Breakthroughs are not determined by committees, even Nobel Committees, by the consensus of experts, or by Congressional legislation.
Jack Nicastro is right that Jane Goodall is wrong. A slice from Nicastro:
Isn’t it odd that these supposed humanitarians want fewer human beings living poorer, more miserable lives for the benefit of animals and the anthropomorphized earth? Regardless, it’s absolutely refuted by the evidence: As economies transition from agrarian ones mired in subsistence-level poverty to developed ones, increases in productivity translate to greater real GDP (read: wealth, health, and happiness) per capita, even as populations grow. Our World in Data provides an illustrative graph of this phenomenon here.
The World Health Organization says its proposed pandemic treaty would simply improve international coordination. But a new investigation by Public finds the @WHO treaty would enshrine the worst abuses of state power, including censorship, from the last 3 years.