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Posts Tagged ‘smoking’

So here’s another reason why the economy is dumb.

Smoking, it’s generally agreed, is pretty bad. All the sensible medical advice these days is that anyone who does it should try to do less of it, ideally none at all. There’s some room for nuance there, but that’s mostly an uncontroversial interpretation of the evidence. Even the most spirited defense tobacco companies seem to fall back on nowadays is that it’s something everyone has the right to do – as in, the government shouldn’t be able to use force or the threat of force to coerce you into not doing it. (I agree with this, though again, nuance can still be discussed.)

Imagine some magical switch was suddenly flipped, and now nobody wants to smoke any more. No cold turkey or withdrawal or cravings; everyone is instantly a non-smoker and has no desire to change.

This would have massive global health benefits, add countless millennia to people’s collective lives, and be an unprecedented economic catastrophe.

Nobody smokes anymore? Well, so long to that trillion-dollar a year industry, along with the tens of billions in tax revenue in the US alone.

Nearly a million jobs would be wiped out too, as well as numerous entire businesses.

If a hugely beneficial thing somehow happened, we would be completely unprepared for it and it would fuck everything up. There would be severe negative repercussions, making things worse for almost everyone, resulting from a straight-forwardly positive development.

And it really would be positive! All those folk who were spending their careers helping to provide people with an injurious and useless habit can go do other things now! Everyone can carry on just as awesomely as before, but without this one dumb factor that used to shorten their life and take their money! All the effort that was going into preparing and distributing toxic firesticks can be diverted to stuff that might improve the quality and length of people’s lives instead! There literally should not be a down-side!

There’s no reason this should harm our prosperity – we could support our current levels of thriving in the past, even while a bunch of people were devoting all their working hours to making cigarettes, and millions of other people were wasting their time smoking them and shortening their lives. Nothing meaningful has been lost, and the potential for a great deal of heretofore untapped productivity has been freed up.

It’s an abject failure of our current approach to collective organisation, if we’d find ourselves doing worse than we were doing before, after a big positive change. And at least in the short-term I suspect that’s what would happen.

I don’t know how you make the economy less stupid. That’s some higher-level thinking I’m not prepared for just yet. I just do the bit where you point out how much things suck in case people hadn’t noticed.

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