Saturday, January 02, 2010

Panic mode and poor analogies

Today's WSJ, includes Nick Gillespie's "Don't Fear the 2010s" which tours the last decade's fears and phobias (Y2K, "peak oil", avian flu, etc.). Gillespie includes a reference to John Mueller's comparison of an American's odds of dying at the hands of a terrorist (outside a war zone) with the odds of dying in an auto accident. The latter is 1,000 times greater. We seem not to have things in perspective.

Yet, this well worn analogy is weak. The trade-offs involving auto use and auto safety are more or less understood and freely chosen. And most of us have experienced years of vastly improved auto safety (steering columns used to impale drivers in a head-on collision). Many people are not so sure that the terrorist threat is trending in a benign direction. It is one thing to be in a "game" against a well understood system (autos and highways); it is quite another to be in a "game" with fanatics who do occasionally score big hits against civilian populations.

One can poke at any analogy. And hysteria is easily incited; some people in politics make their living this way. The long term growth in the size and scope of governments is a fact of life and will not subside until we see the panic mode for what it is.