Cooperation in the Age of Anger

I have finally cracked. After writing for Of Dollars And Data for 33 weeks without discussing politics in the slightest, I have had enough. I really thought I could keep this website strictly to personal finance/investing, but I don’t have the will to write about tax loss harvesting while nuclear war threatens our very existence and the political divide in this country grows wider. I want to talk about both of these topics today and why we need to have more understanding and support for those that hold worldviews different from our own.

1. The Most Important Data Series

To start, I want to talk about arguably the most important data series that the world has ever known:

Number of nuclear bombs dropped on civilian locations, 1945-2016

This is it. 2 data points in 1945 during World War II and zero ever since. Keeping that line at zero is the most important thing that we can do to ensure the future of our species in the near term. Don’t get me wrong, we still need to fix other problems (i.e. the environment, inequality, etc.), but none of those present the short term existential crisis that nuclear war does. It has been over half a century since the world was at such a crossroads. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was the closest we ever got to full blown nuclear war. Though I don’t think North Korea presents the same existential threat today that the USSR did in 1962, any nuclear attack would be devastating. Even one bomb is too many.

So why does North Korea have such a troubled relationship with the U.S.? It is a complex answer, but it all goes back to the Korean war. Did you know that the U.S. dropped 100,000 more tons of bombs on North Korea from during the Korean War than they did in the Pacific during all of World War II? How about that approximately 20% of the North Korean population was killed in the Korean war? I am not saying that these facts excuse the behavior of the North Korean regime, but this context matters a lot.

I don’t know enough about the U.S. relationship with North Korea to say anything noteworthy, but I am for any solution that will prevent the loss of life, especially from a nuclear attack. I can only hope those in both governments feel the same way.

2. Befriend Your Enemy

Whether the nuclear threat ever materializes, there is still a growing political and ideological divide across America. All political discourse seems to have lost its civility. Yelling has taken the place of finding common ground to build a productive relationship. I do not know much about politics, but I can say this with certainty: The more forceful an opposing point is presented to an individual, the more likely that individual will reaffirm their original belief. This means that the argumentative nature of today’s political discourse is actually making things worse and there are plenty of psychological studies about confirmation bias to support this.

So what can you and I do about it? Stop the yelling, try to seek understanding, and support your fellow Americans as people. Yes, all of them. Even the white supremacists out in Charlottesville, as much as you might hate them, deserve to be treated fairly as people. I don’t agree with their views, but I would seek to understand why they have those views. You might think they hold these views because they are “bad” people, but thinking like this is both inaccurate and unhelpful for making progress.

Understanding individuals as people and befriending them is a far more useful tactic for reducing hate than any form of argument or violence. If you don’t believe me, consider the story of Daryl Davis, an African-American blues musician who befriended over 200 members of the KKK and got them to disavow the Klan. Davis never pressured any of these men to leave the KKK, but they left nonetheless. Davis simply asked them, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” The fact is that Daryl Davis figured it out:

Hate needs to be hugged, not choked, out of existence.

The Story of Humanity is the Story of Cooperation

Despite the grim picture I have painted about human cooperation, the world has gotten more, not less, cooperative over the last few hundred years. To illustrate this, I will leave you with one of my favorite ideas in all of economics that exemplifies the power of human cooperation through the free market.

There is an essay called, “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read that Milton Friedman summarizes incredibly in this video. Friedman discusses how something as simple as a pencil could not be created without lots of human cooperation. The amount of things that need to be accomplished to create a pencil (i.e. chop down a tree, grow rubber, mine brass, etc.) are far too vast for any one person. He expands on this idea eloquently:

Literally thousands of people cooperated to make this pencil. People who don’t speak the same language, who practice different religions, who might hate one another if they ever met! When you go down to the store and buy this pencil, you are in effect trading a few minutes of your time, for a few seconds of the time of all those thousands of people. What brought them together and enduced them to cooperate to make this pencil? There was no Commissar sending out orders from some central office. It was the magic of the price system. The impersonal operation of prices that brought them together and got them to cooperate to make this pencil so that you could have it for a trifling sum. That is why the operation of the free market is so essential, not only to promote productive efficiency, but even more, to foster harmony and peace among the people of the world.

Free markets are not perfect, but they are the best thing we have tried to encourage massive levels of cooperation across the world. So don’t fret. We are moving in the right direction despite the occasional speed bump along the way. As Josh Brown explained so well recently, this is just a counter-trend.

Call to Action

Instead of asking you to share this story, I want you to actually do something that helps you and increases the amount of cooperation in the world. Find someone that you had a falling out with and reach out to them. Estranged relative? An old friend? I don’t care who it is, but please find it in your heart to forgive this person or to apologize to them if you did something wrong. Try and mend some old wounds. I am asking you this favor as a brother, a son, a friend, and, most importantly, as a human on this planet. The world is so filled with hate and anger right now that I just want to know, “Where is the love?”

Thank you for reading!

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This is post 34. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering:

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