Over the past decade, I’ve felt like the world has become much dumber. Political decay once associated with a few countries such as Italy and Philippines has spread almost everywhere. But maybe that’s just me getting older and grouchier. Maybe the world is not any dumber than before.

Jonathan Haidt has a thought-provoking essay in The Atlantic entitled:


So it’s not just me.  I have a few reservations with Haidt’s views on social media (as does Matt Yglesias), but the essay is well worth reading.  

When dumb ideas are popular, sophisticated people look for deep explanations.  Who gains and who loses from that dumb policy?  But perhaps public choice models with special interest groups don’t provide the answer.  Perhaps it’s just the stupidity, stupid.

This headline from Reason magazine caught my eye:

Congress Should Not Legalize Marijuana, Marco Rubio Says, Because Black-Market Weed Is ‘Laced With Fentanyl’

So given a choice between legal weed and black market weed, Senator Rubio prefers the latter because it’s laced with fentanyl.  That’s seems like a pretty punitive attitude toward drug users.  Yes, they are breaking the law, but do they actually deserve to die from a fentanyl overdose? 

I suspect that there is an alternative interpretation of Rubio’s position, he is simply confused.

A third possibility is that Rubio is not confused, and that he is cynically exploiting the ignorance of voters.  I’ve met many, many people who have told me that legalizing drugs is a bad idea because the drug trade is very violent.  Sigh. . . .

But what makes you think Rubio is not one of those people?  Intelligent people often hold dumb opinions.

In a previous post, I pointed out that low carbon energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower and nuclear are being held back because of objections by environmentalists.  Maybe they are simply confused.

Matt Yglesias recently linked to a survey that has urban experts shaking their heads in disbelief:

There’s also a widely held belief that building more housing makes housing more unaffordable.  Once again, here’s Yglesias:

What is the common thread in all of this stupidity?  Things are not as they seem at first glance.  You need to analyze a situation.  Here is how things seem at first glance:

1. The Chernobyl disaster hurt the environment.  Nope, it helped the environment so much that the area around Chernobyl is now one of Europe’s greatest nature preserves, full of wild animals.

2.  Solar, wind and hydropower can hurt the environment.  But the coal-generated electricity they replace hurts the environment much more.

3.  The leafy suburbs of Long Island are better for the environment than the concrete jungle of  Manhattan.  Nope, Manhattan houses 2 million people using far less land and energy than does Long Island.

4.  In cities where they are building lots of luxury high rises, housing is getting more expensive.  Yes, but the net effect of the new construction is to slow the rate of increase in housing prices.

5.  The drug trade involves a lot of crime and violence.  Yes, but the crime and violence occur precisely because the drugs are illegal. 

The moral of the story is that bad policy does not always result from nefarious special interest groups.  In many cases, it’s simply a question of stupidity.  If Jonathan Haidt is correct that the world is getting even stupider, then we might expect even more dumb legislation going forward.

PS.  Partial drug legalization does not necessarily shrink the illegal drug trade.  Complete legalization does (even with fairly high taxes), as we’ve seen with cigarettes.