Al Gore's Scope Insensitivity, Flawed Policies, & It's Victims

Al Gore has said Americans are addicted to “short term thinking.” He is correct. Even in the business world, which is presumably rational, timelines often stretch no further than the next quarter’s earnings reports. To think ahead by spans of generations or more is not very common.

Sadly, however, Al Gore fails to emphasize – for reasons either cynical or simply because he suffers from the same affliction as most everyone else – that Americans are also victims of “scope insensitivity.” That is a big phrase – “scope insensitivity” – but understanding the meaning of this phrase is key to understanding many of the policy failures of America, especially in recent decades.

Scope insensitivity is the inability of a person, or voting block, or nation, to understand simple quantitative proportions, which if understood, would cast a policy issue in an entirely different light. Simply put, because of scope insensitivity, the logical conclusions one might rationally find obvious are eclipsed by emotional arguments.

Absent the ability to recognize basic quantitative realities, the proper scope of the relevant variables that affect a policy issue are incomprehensible, and policy becomes a puppet of whoever has the most money and the most compelling emotional appeal. Here are three interrelated examples:


Immigration: There is nothing wrong with America opening her borders to immigrants. America is a nation of immigrants. But Americans appear unable to grasp the difference between allowing immigration sufficient to make up for low birthrates – something all developed nations are experiencing – and allowing immigration that based on current rates will cause America’s population to increase by 50% or more within the next 20-30 years!

American policy ought to reflect a rational calculation of what rate Americans want their total population to increase – then taking into account the high birthrates of immigrants recently arrived – should calculate how many additional immigrants be admitted every year. Scope insensitivity prevents this calculation from being made. Instead, Americans are led to believe they must absorb all the dispossessed, the persecuted, the destitute, from all the world. But simple calculations will indicate conclusively that even if Americans doubled or tripled their already alarming rate of immigration, it would make virtually no dent in the number of people in the world who suffer these afflictions. The realistic way for Americans to help alleviate poverty in the rest of the world is to assist them with economic development.

Corporate Profits: Pointing a reproachful finger at the major oil companies, who perhaps in aggregate declared profits of $100 billion dollars in 2007, has great emotional appeal. Ordinary people who are paying $4.00 per gallon for gas are understandably concerned.

Quantitative reality, however, scope, paints a very different picture. First of all, most of those profits are outside the USA, but even if they were all inside the USA, yearly profits of $100 billion divided by annual American gasoline consumption of 170 billion gallons only translates to a price drop of $0.58 per gallon. But major international oil companies only make a fraction of those profits in the USA, and they are not allowed to deduct from their taxable income all the money they need to explore for more oil, which means if they make no profit, they have no money to find more oil. More on that later.

Another way corporate profits are used to generate emotional arguments that translate into misguided voting and subsequent bad policy relates to CEO compensation. There are perhaps 1,000 corporate executives who make $100 million per year – probably not even that. This equates to $100 billion per year. But public employees, thanks to their public employee unions who exercise nearly absolute control over politicians and elections at the state, county and local level in most American states, now enjoy compensation that exceeds private sector compensation by a factor of 2-4x. This eggregious disparity is easily validated if, along with salaries and wages, you take into account the value of health and retirement benefits, overtime, and generous paid time off.

The difference between what America’s approximately 30 million public sector workers make, compared to what they would make if they were paid according to the globally competitive rates paid for similar work in the private sector is approximately 1.5 trillion per year (30 million times $50K) – 15 times as much! This staggering sum of money could be used to eliminate government deficits and fix our roads – but scope insensitivity means emotion rules – corporate chieftans are demonized, and cities and states go bankrupt so public employees can retire early.

Global Warming: Let’s assume all of these catastrophic projections are actually true; that we have to immediately drop atmospheric CO2 concentrations to under 350 PPM, and this is something under our control. In pursuit of this goal, in California, for example, we are going to now cram everyone into ultra high density lots, destroy all semi-rural suburbs with subsidized ultra high density infill, coerce people out of their cars, and carpet the landscape with wind and biofuel farms. But is this feasible and likely to make any difference in global atmospheric CO2 concentrations? The answer is an absolute and definite NO.

Currently over 80% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuel. And even if we were able to bring everyone in the world up (or down) to a per capita energy consumption at 30% that of people in the USA, energy production in the world would have to double. There is no way this will happen without fossil fuel. It is inspiring and appropriate to work to accelerate the deployment of non-fossil fuel energy. But it is completely impossible to ratchet atmospheric CO2 down to 350 PPM through curtailment of fossil fuel burning. It isn’t going to happen. Only gross scope insensitivity would allow anyone to come to such a conclusion. And absent this conclusion, policy options change considerably.


The ironic answer is the real victims are regular working people, ordinary people, all of them potential voters who never got out their calculators and overcame their scope insensitivity. And who wins? In America the environmentalist socialists – or socialist environmentalists – are the ones who win. The socialist left has taken over the environmentalist mainstream throughout the world, something that should, and does, horrify any of us who are environmentalists, but not socialists.

The unwitting agenda of socialists in America is to create a nation where social cohesion has been shattered because private sector workers including recently arrived immigrants were unable to enjoy the benefits the privileged elite enjoyed. Why? Because social security and medicare were never reformed and upgraded, because 30% or more of the electorate had unionized public sector jobs and had taxpayer supported retirement security utterly disconnected from social security and medicare. Because Americans never confronted the challenge that faces, within a generation, all humankind, which is to learn to live with a stable population. Because environmentalists marginalized economic growth at the same time as they forced an unsustainably growing, culturally fractured population into the “urban service boundaries” of exisiting cities, piling everyone on top of each other, creating social havoc, but also creating a meal ticket for the public sector employees; special education teachers, social workers, and public safety workers.

And what of the corporate sector? Socialists understand that the difference between socialism and communism is this: Socialism is communism with rich people and huge corporations. The most powerful multinational corporations always manage to thrive under the environmentalist / socialist agenda, because only the largest and wealthiest corporations can afford to comply with these ever stricter regulations. Under the eco-socialist regime, America’s traditions of market competition and creative innovation will be tragically undermined, but huge coporations will prosper. And well they should, since the tax revenues assessed on their profits – rhetorically demonized – is what enables environmentalist nonprofit activists and overpaid public sector workers to exist.

Scope insensitivity is a big part of the reason Americans may see their nation complete its downwards drift towards becoming a socialist police state controlled by government employee unions in partnership with mega corporations, enforcing rationing instead of competition, artificial scarcity instead of abundance, and solidifying the nation into two very different classes; the unionized government elite and their partners, the super rich, and everyone else. And this is the vision that carries the day unchallenged in 2008, carried on the rhetorical wings of humanitarian ideals, resentment at corporate profits, global warming crisis mongering, and extreme green ideology in general.

5 Responses to “Al Gore's Scope Insensitivity, Flawed Policies, & It's Victims”
  1. guy says:

    I am 78 years old and most of the bullshi* that is on this blog written by these liberals will destroy this great nation. Most of them have had it so good they have no idea the problems this great nation has overcome we are out of oil and all I hear is global warming, green cars, ect., if they replace all the cars with batteries plus copper for the electric motors lead and copper will cost thousands per pound. How stupid can Gore and the other liberals be? Let me answer – stupid.

  2. Roger Brown says:

    I do not really understand your comment about limiting immigration. You have stated elsewhere that you believe that global birthrates are declining and that the earth’s human population will stabilize at about 8.5 billion people. You also claim to believe that continued technological progress can bring about an era of universal abundance while at the same time limiting the negative impacts of human economic activity on the biosphere to an acceptable level. If these beliefs are true, then what motivation do we have for stabilizing the U.S. population immediately through immigration restrictions? The urgency of immigration restrictions only makes sense if we believe that the earth’s resources are insufficient to support the global human population at U.S. levels of material wealth. If you are claiming that immigration restrictions will cause a significant drop in global birthrate then I think that you are guilty of scope insensitivity yourself.

    I agree that allowing large levels of immigration is not an effective way to combat global poverty. However, in spite of the noble words on the statue of Liberty I do not believe that U.S. immigration policy has ever been primarily dictated by humanitarian considerations. In the past , a relatively underpopulated, resource rich continent made large levels of immigration an economic advantage. Now that the situation has changed and we realize that resource availability is limiting wealth we wish to change our policy. I am not arguing in favor of unrestricted immigration. But I am arguing in favor of acknowledging the reality of our situation rather than pretending that we are about to enter an era of universal abundance at the same time that we want to slam shut the gates of immigratioon to make sure that we do not have to share our wealth with too many people.

  3. Ed Ring says:

    Roger: You make a good point. In the context of scope insensitivity, the immigration example is a good one. But the issue of U.S. immigration policy is complex. Basically our position would be unless property rights are taken back from the environmental extremists, all population growth in the U.S. is going to be forced into the “footprint” of existing cities. That is already the reality in California, and the trend in the rest of the U.S. In that context, increasing the U.S. population by 50% in the next 20-30 years is, to me, a hideous choice.

    If, on the other hand, Americans recognized the inevitability of abundant land, energy and water – because of stablizing population, voluntary urbanization, factory agriculture, drip irrigation, desalination, water reuse, clean fossil fuel, and myriad new energy technologies – then policymakers would hopefully abandon the trend towards rationing of land, energy and water.

    If the current agenda of the environmentalist movement prevails, and we live in a nation of rationing – then Americans should be very concerned about population growth via immigration.

    The long term trends are both positive and inevitable – abundant resources and a stable population. Our global economic challenge in 50 years or so will be how to enjoy economic growth through automation, since the human population can only be stable if it has a fundamentally elderly demographic.

  4. Roger Brown says:

    That the human population of the earth will eventually stop growing is indeed inevitable. That the earth’s resources can support 8.5 billion people at standards of living far above that which the U.S. enjoys today is far from self-evident (Since, according to your account, in fifty years time we are still going to be pursing economic growth, I presume that we will be richer then than we are today). I assume that you are planning on the rest of humanity catching up to our standard of living by the end of the century. It is certainly clear that the only thing that will prevent China and India from doing so is resource limitations, which you claim do not exist or which will ‘inevitably’ be overcome by technological cleverness. I am a technologically inclined person myself, with an advanced science degree and twenty-two years of engineering experience in Silicon Valley, but I do not share your optimism about the inevitability of resource abundance in a world with 8 billion plus human beings.

    I do not think that our economic goal should be to get richer forever, but to live well within the limits of a finite world. It is true, of course, that no one knows for certain what those limits are, but assuming that they are far distant and putting the pedal to metal of economic growth does not appear to me to be an intelligent strategy. Sooner or later we are going to have create economic and social institutions that do not require constant growth for ‘healthy’ functioning. I will not bother to describe my vision of such institutions (They are something far different than what Al Gore is promoting) since I am sure that such a description would cause you to make the sign of the cross to ward off the evil ‘S’ monster. I am afraid that I am one of those benighted people who does not believe that everlasting greed is the path to everlasting abundance.

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