Extrapolation Is Easy…

     …but realism is hard.

     Isn’t everyone familiar with the investment flacksters’ line that “past performance is no guarantee of future returns?” Aren’t we all aware that trends become more dubious the longer they continue? Haven’t we seen enough trends implode “unexpectedly,” and all too often ruinously?

     The quotes at the opening of this essay are invaluable. Ensure your understanding of them. Clutch them to your breast. Be ever ready to brandish them at those who flap their extrapolations in your face…whether those extrapolations are cheery or gloomy.


     Some of the most tragic extrapolations prove to be faithless seducers, cruel exploiters of our hopes in ways that a decent man could never anticipate. I have in mind at the moment a scene from an old Heinlein novel, one of his earliest:

     “I had a pretty thorough education in business, finance, economics, salesmanship. It’s true that I got my job because Grantland Rice picked me-I mean football helped a lot to make me well known-but I was prepared to be an asset to any firm that hired me. You see that, don’t you?”
     “Oh, most certainly!”
     “It’s important, because it has a bearing on what happened afterwards. I wasn’t working on my second million but I was getting along. Things were slick enough. The night it happened I was celebrating a little-with reason. I had unloaded an allotment of South American Republics-”
     “Bonds. It seemed like a good time to throw a party. It was a Saturday night, so everybody started out with the dinner-dance at the country club. It was the usual thing. I looked over the flappers for a while, didn’t see one I wanted to dance with, and wandered into the locker room, looking for a drink. The attendant used to sell it to people he could trust.”
     “Which reminds me, ” said Hamilton, and returned a moment later with glasses and refreshment.
     “Thanks. His gin was pure bathtub, but usually reliable. Maybe it wasn’t, that night. Or maybe I should have eaten dinner. Anyhow, I found myself listening to an argument that was going on in one end of the room. One of these parlor bolsheviks was holding forth-maybe you still have the type? Attack anything, just so long as it was respectable and decent.”
     Hamilton smiled.
     “You do, eh? He was one of ’em. Read nothing but the American Mercury and Jurgen and then knew it all. I’m not narrow-minded. I read those things, too, but I didn’t have to believe ’em. I read the Literary Digest, too, and the Times, something they would never do. To get on, he was panning the Administration and predicting that the whole country was about to go to the bow-wows… go to pieces. He didn’t like the Gold Standard, he didn’t like Wall Street, he thought we ought to write off the War Debts.
     “I could see that some of our better members were getting pretty sick of it, so I jumped in. “They hired the money, didn’t they, ‘ I told him.
     “He grinned at me-sneered I should say. ‘I suppose you voted for him.’
     “‘I certainly did, ‘ I answered, which was not strictly true; I hadn’t gotten around to registering, such things coming in the middle of the football season. But I wasn’t going to let him get away with sneering at Mr. Coolidge. ‘I suppose you voted for Davis.’
     “‘Not likely, ‘ he says. ‘I voted for Norman Thomas. ‘
     “Well, that burned me up. ‘See here, ‘ I said, ‘the proper place for people like you is in Red Russia. You’re probably an atheist, to boot. You have the advantage of living in the greatest period in the history of the greatest country in history. We’ve got an Administration in Washington that understands business. We’re back to normalcy and we’re going to stay that way. We don’t need you rocking the boat. We are levelled off on a plateau of permanent prosperity. Take it from me-Don’t Sell America Short!'” I got quite a burst of applause.
     “‘You seem pretty sure of that,’ he says, weakly.
     “‘I ought to be,’ I told him. ‘I’m in the Street. ‘”

     [From Beyond This Horizon.]

     For those that don’t get the historical references, the young optimist telling the tale was speaking of a moment during the Coolidge Administration. At that time, the stock market looked like a rocket launch, speeding ever upward with no limit. It had been that way since shortly after the inauguration of Warren Harding. But that seemingly unstoppable trend was not a response to exploding productivity.

     To anyone who understood the dynamics behind the huge gains in the stock market during the Roaring Twenties, it would have been clear that the stock market was the last place one should put one’s savings. The record inflation of that period – at one point the money supply was growing by nearly 8% per year – coupled to the wave of wildly irresponsible stock speculations “on margin” and the tendency of nearly every industry to over-expand built a house of cards that was doomed to fall. Its fall, in combination with the unwise policies of the Hoover Administration, crushed a great many people in the rubble.

     In proof of the old maxim that “the only thing people learn from history is that we learn nothing from history,” it happened again in the Nineties, in a greatly similar fashion.


     If you’re wondering what has my Yo-Yo spun up so high this morning, it’s this essay, which Ragin’ Dave brought to our attention in the piece below. Dave demonstrates a better understanding of the dynamics of population growth than that piece’s author. However, there are a few influences still to be mentioned. They require that we ask a simple question:

Why do people choose to have kids,
Whether historically or today?

     Let’s look at a few of the reasons:

  1. It isn’t always a choice.
  2. Women are predisposed to want children.
  3. Some men like kids, too. (Yes, I’ve known a few.)
  4. In farm societies, more children == more labor == more production == more income.
  5. In many contexts there are social and / or religious pressures on married couples to produce children.

     All of those are pro-natal influences. They can be seen operating at any time in recorded history. Now let’s ask the inverse question:

Why do people choose not to have kids,
Whether historically or today?

     There are several influences to consider here, too:

  1. It isn’t always possible.
  2. Children involve commitments of several kinds:
    • Emotional;
    • Financial;
    • Spatial.
  3. Children must be cared for, which involves obligations, risks, or both.
  4. Today especially, there are social / religious pressures not to produce children.
  5. Other duties and obligations attached to children are more numerous than ever before.

     I have no doubt that both lists could be extended, but the above are the considerations that strike me as dominant. To my mind, in these United States in the Year of Our Lord 2024, the latter group heavily outweighs the former. Technology, except as manifested in PlayStations, cell phones, and other gadgets, doesn’t have a lot to do with it.


     The author of the cited essay isn’t the only one who looks to technological advance as the countermeasure to the “birth dearth.” Many other writers have looked upon the technological progress of recent decades and reached the same conclusions. But all such are extrapolating without adequate real-world foundations. For technology isn’t a beast that stands apart from causation. Technological developments occur because someone wants something that isn’t yet available to him on acceptable terms. That forces yet another critical question upon us:

Who is he and what does he want?

     The Manhattan Project of the Forties produced a technological development, to be sure: a new way of killing people and destroying things en masse. Given the unpleasantnesses in progress at the time, it probably seemed a good thing. Would it still seem so if the context were not World War II but today? Yet several agencies of our time are pressing for similar advances, most notably in bioengineering. Do their efforts, or the things they strive to produce, seem good things?

     Advances in electronics have provided us with many things our grandparents lacked. Before the transistor, the family had at most one radio and one television. Moreover, they were large, obstructive, and rather unreliable. If there was a local source of music, it was a turntable with a stylus that teased sound out of a vinyl disc. Obviously, those conditions have changed. But so have others, including these:

  • Our savings have been “virtualized.”
  • No one can be certain he’s not being listened to or watched.
  • “Smart” technologies permit others to monitor and control many of our activities.
  • Our decisions, to a large and growing extent, require third-party permission even when wholly legal.

     Technology giveth, and technology taketh away.


     When Henry Hazlitt bequeathed this message to us:

     The art of economics consists in not merely looking at the immediate but also the longer-term effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

     …he reminded us of something priceless: To understand what is happening, we must pay attention to all the influences on every decision or action, and all the consequences that arise from them. Just as it’s central to economic analysis, it’s crucial to understanding how societies mutate in response to the waxing or waning of specific influences. The one I’m about to mention is seldom addressed by those who look to technology to “solve” this or that “problem:”

Who’s paying the fiddler?

     Remember how that old maxim went?

     Who is funding the scientific and technological efforts of our time? What is he paying for? The pure love of knowledge? Perhaps some, somewhere, some of the time. But when the money comes from a government, that’s not the way to bet.

     Governments control the overwhelmingly greater part of the funds expended on scientific and technological advance. What do they want? It’s seldom a better egg beater. It’s never anything conducive to individual freedom, unless by accident.

     The broader picture is no rosier. Today, American governments account for nearly half of all expenditures on anything. Incredibly, the governments of other nations are even worse. That sort of buying power influences every imaginable economic decision. Shall we make baby monitors or ankle monitors? Shall we make videophones or closed-circuit television systems? Shall we invest in automobile production, or bomber production? Shall we develop better, cheaper, more reliable firearms for civilian purchase, or ever more complex devices of mass destruction to be wielded by the armies of the State? Which of these markets is growing fastest?

     When the dollars being chased are increasingly being spent on governments’ desires – war and the control of the private citizen – the decisions of developers, and of those who employ and direct them, will be biased accordingly.


     Perhaps you think I’ve drifted away from the main point. I haven’t. It might seem that the point is the decline in world fertility, but in truth the point is the future: what we see coming, and how that vision affects our decisions to procreate or not.

     Optimism is a choice: at this time, a choice made against the probabilities. That includes optimism about technological advance. I have no doubt that some of it will benefit us. But how much? And to what extent will those advances be offset by the sort that confine our decisions and reduce our prospects and the prospects of our progeny? With an ever greater share of the Gross World Product being commandeered and spent by governments, it’s hard to expect that our kids’ futures will be brighter than our present. That’s a vision that militates against having children. Especially if they would have to grow up in one of those BLEEP!ing “15 minute cities.”

     Have a nice day.

1 comment

  1. The future belongs to those that procreate. Those that failed to leave descendants gave up on their future.
    That’s why men need to marry sturdy, self-reliant women who can step into the job, should he not be there. All the ‘hot’ women with wild sexual skills will not serve your kids as well as a person who works in tandem with her spouse while he is there, makes the best job of it when he is not, and prepares her kids for the possibility of a very tough future.

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