Monday, April 08, 2002

Taking the Long View

In most public policy debates, it's not possible to reach a conclusive verdict during an individual's lifetime. The debate over whether socialism was superior to capitalism as a practical political system, which began for real with the Bolshevik revolution, didn't end for most people until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Strom Thurmond was already in high school and assumably observing world affairs by then, but most people involved in the struggles of those days never lived to see if their side won. Because history tends to remember the winners best, we often get a lopsided view of history. Today it's difficult to imagine, for example, just how many smart people in 1935 thought that American-style democracy was doomed, and that the rest of the developed world would slowly move farther and farther toward the socialist model.

In an attempt to hold such people responsible for their wrong-headed predictions and reward visionaries who saw the shape of the future while all others called them mad, the Long Bets Foundation was established, allowing future-focused thinkers to put their cash on the line while making predictions on issues "of societal or scientific importance." Most bets so far tend to be on slightly more quantifiable events, such as whether by 2030 a significant number of commuters will be flying in pilotless airplanes. But the idea is a fascinating one that can easily be expanded to any number of different areas. Minimum bet is $1,000 and any winnings will be donated to a charity of the bettor's choice. Challengers welcome.

The Long Bets Foundation concept recalls the famous bet between the late economist Julian Simon and the biologist (and Malthusian alarmist) Paul Ehrlich about natural resource depletion and the ability of human ingenuity to overcome such obstacles. Simon won, by the way.

No comments: