Monday, September 09, 2019

Sanders = Thanos?

I'm not normally a reader of the Washington Examiner, but I followed a link from Instapundit to an Examiner article that half-jokingly equates Bernie Sanders to Marvel villain Thanos, the antagonist in "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame." The article's author, Caleb Franz, argues that Bernie Sanders revealed his thanatotic self when he affirmed that population control would be an important plank in his program to rescue the environment from human-caused harm.

While the article was a hoot to read (although, in the end, it didn't make a very convincing Sanders-Thanos connection), what really struck me was the article's contention that the final two Avengers movies can be read as a conservative text, with Thanos as the "ultimate... central planner." I hadn't thought of that. Read on:

Thanos was the ultimate example of a central planner, and his storyline illustrates the inevitability of authoritarians with good intentions. Throughout Infinity War, he wasn’t acting evil for evil’s sake[;] he had a clear reason to believe what he believed, and his convictions drove everything he did. Then, after the Avengers showed Thanos how his plans would fail, instead of accepting that he was wrong, he [doubled] down and [sought] to eliminate all life rather than half.

This escalation, illustrated through Thanos, is how many central planners start from ideas of peace, balance, and tranquility but end up with bloodshed and authoritarianism.

Now, Sanders is not Thanos, and he likely wouldn’t take steps as extreme as Thanos does to achieve population control. But much like Thanos, Sanders doesn’t understand that[,] once his plans inevitably fail, he will be forced into a situation to either abandon his mission or double down into a much darker place.

Neither Sanders nor Thanos [is] the first to suggest population is running out of control. Paul Ehrlich popularized the idea back in the 1970s with the release of his book The Population Bomb. He claimed millions would starve to death due to overpopulation within a decade.

Before Paul Ehrlich, there was Thomas Malthus, who wrote a book in 1798 titled An Essay on the Principle of Population. He suggested that population would lead to humanity’s doom almost 200 years before Ehrlich.

Yet regardless of whether the claim came from Malthus, Ehrlich, Sanders, or Thanos, they all were wrong. Despite the incredible rise in population over the past 200 years, we have more abundance of food, not less. People have a higher standard of living, not a lower one. Basically, what’s happened is the opposite of everything they predicted.

This is because the world has been adopting a freer market to solve global problems. If we expect to solve the many problems we still face around the world, we must reject central planners such as Bernie Sanders and Thanos, and reject population control, too.

I agree with the need to reject central planning, but the dig against Malthus doesn't really refute Malthus's contention that populations grow to the limit of their food supply; what Caleb Franz is saying is that we've learned how to increase our food supply along the way. In other words, we've merely postponed the Malthusian question, not answered it. Now to be clear, I certainly don't advocate arbitrarily limiting our food supply in a morbid attempt to prove Malthus's point; I'm simply saying that Malthus probably doesn't belong on this short list of people who've been definitively proven wrong.* Paul Ehrlich's notion of a "population bomb," on the other hand, has certainly been refuted many times over by this point. And just wait until humans move off-planet in earnest.

So, no: Sanders isn't Thanos, although the thought is amusing. But reading the final two Avengers movies as conservative texts... that's a rare thing, given how Marvel movies—with the notable exception of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"—generally lean left.

*This site lays out Malthus's theory in some detail, and based on what the site says, I'm wrong. Malthus explicitly did predict, as part of his theory, that populations would increase exponentially while food supply would increase only arithmetically, thus resulting in eventual mass starvation unless population increases were curbed. Since Malthus's theory made specific predictions, Caleb Franz is right to say that Malthus ended up being proven wrong, in the long run. Malthus apparently also failed to justify his exponential/geometric framing of the problem by providing any hard observational data for his math. So: my bad.

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