France is being torn apart by ongoing riots, and Europe’s birth rate is spiraling downward along with its economy, which means that its unemployment is “twice as high and four times as deep”, as Karl Zinsmeister recently wrote, in an essay titled, “Europe Learns the Wrong Lessons“.
So I had to chuckle the night before last when I visited in the Barnes & Noble near my L.A. hotel room and saw copies of far-left eco-doomsayer Jeremy Rifkin’s The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream prominently displayed on the store’s shelves.
But then, like the continent that Rifkin seeks to venerate, this is far from the first time that he’s has learned the wrong lessons from history:
In his 1979 book, The Emerging Order, Rifkin wrote: “The age of expansion with faith in unlimited economic growth and the governing truths of science and technology, is about to give way to a new age of scarcity and economic contraction, an age so utterly different from our own that any serious attempt to give form and substance to it all but boggles the mind.” Reality check: In the years since Rifkin wrote this, nearly every country in the world has achieved significant growth in their gross domestic product. And our faith in the “governing truths of science” shows no signs of letting up. In 1986 Rifkin warned that Frostban — a harmless bacteria genetically engineered to protect plants from freezing temperatures — “could irreversibly affect worldwide climate and precipitation patterns over a long, long period of time.” Reality check: Far from causing worldwide climate changes, Frostban has had no adverse effects on the environment. In 1987 Rifkin petitioned the NIH and the USDA to investigate a possible link between the cow disease Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus (BIV) and AIDS. According to a New York Times account: “In his petition, Mr. Rifkin speculated that the AIDS virus might have evolved from cattle viruses, or that the cattle virus might itself have played a role in the development of AIDS. But researchers at the Federal Centers for Disease Control today discounted the possibility that the cattle virus was related in any way to acquired immune deficiency syndrome in humans.” In his 1992 book, Beyond Beef, Rifkin was at it again, calling BIV “Cow AIDS” for the shock value. He wrote: “The economic impact of BIV on the beef and dairy industries is likely to be devastating in the years to come.” A column in The Washington Times responded: “Worse is Mr. Rifkin’s mendacious exploitation of AIDS and cancer hysteria. He notes that the bovine AIDS virus (BIV) and the Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV) are ‘widespread among dairy cows and beef cattle,’ and then quotes a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study out of context, insinuating that humans might contract AIDS or leukemia from eating beef. In fact the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health have all corresponded with Mr. Rifkin to inform him in the text of one letter that ‘the available scientific evidence does not support the concept that either BLV or BIV have any adverse impact on human health in the United States.'” In his 1995 book, The End of Work, Rifkin predicted that automation, mechanization, and computerization would cause massive unemployment within America in the near future. Reality check: Unemployment is lower now than it was in 1995. A columnist for the Financial Post remarked in 2003: “Who can forget the jeremiads of that great intellectual flim-flam man, Jeremy Rifkin, whose book, The End of Work, said it all. And what ensued? The greatest bout of job creation in post-war history!” In a 1999 Boston Globe op-ed, Rifkin incorrectly predicted that biotech crops will “run amok”; that they will create “super bugs”; and that they will lead to farmers using “greater quantities of herbicides.” Reality Check: There is no evidence that biotech crops have done anything like creating “super bugs.” While variation exists, farmers generally use fewer herbicides on fields of biotech crops. Moreover, eight biotech crops have already reduced annual US pesticide use by 46 million pounds, including insect resistant corn and cotton, herbicide tolerant corn, cotton, soy, and canola, and virus resistant papaya and squash. His 1999 book, The Biotech Century, went even further into the realm of fantasy. Rifkin wonders whether the use of biotechnology might “risk a fatal interruption of millions of years of evolutionary development? Might not the artificial creation of life spell the end of the natural world? … cause irreversible damage to the biosphere, making genetic pollution an even greater threat to the planet than nuclear or petrochemical pollution?” Reality Check: After more than a decade of consuming foods from biotech crops, we’re still here.
Via InstaPundit, who also links to a Frank Martin post titled, “The J. Patrick Buchanan Memorial Library for Failed Prophets of Doom“.
The only benefit of Rifkin and Buchanan’s doom-saying? Their agreement on so many issues on a mid-1990s episode of CNN’s Crossfire was memorable enough to catch Virginia Postrel’s eye, which led to her wonderful The Future And Its Enemies. As I wrote in late 2001:
In the mid-1990s, Virginia Postrel–a Forbes, Wall Street Journal and Inc. journalist, New York Times editorialist and editor of the libertarian-oriented “Reason” magazine–watched CNN’s “Crossfire” and was amused at what she saw. As Postrel, describes it, there was arch conservative Pat Buchanan and liberal environmental-alarmist author Jeremy Rifkin together, “literally across left and right on sides of the table and agreeing with each other that the American economy was too dynamic and that the government needed to step in and do something, never specifying exactly what, to curb that dynamism because it was rather disruptive and dangerous.”
Incidents like these convinced Postrel that the future would have nothing to do with traditional definitions of conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Her 1999 book, “The Future and Its Enemies,” divides the future between two groups she calls the dynamists and the stasists.
So I guess we should thank Jeremy and Pat for that!