December 31, 2019

THE MOTHER OF ALL CRISES: The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It. In our new book, published today, the social psychologist Roy Baumeister and I argue that the greatest problem in public life is what we call the Crisis Crisis: the never-ending series of hyped threats that needlessly alarm and anger the public. It’s a consequence of the negativity effect, also called the negativity bias, which is the universal tendency for bad events and emotions to affect us more strongly than good ones. This effect continually skews our thinking and the decisions we make in our personal relationships, education, religion, business, sports, media and politics.

Why does government keep growing? Drawing on Mancur Olson’s Rise and Decline of Nations and Robert Higgs’ Crisis and Leviathan, we show how the negativity effect is exploited by journalists, politicians, academics, lobbyists  and activists — the merchants of bad, as we call these doomsayers —  to scare people into adopting policies that benefit politicians, bureaucrats and special interests while hurting everyone else. Whether you’re absorbing today’s bad news or contemplating the future of humanity, we suggest starting with three assumptions:

  1. The world will always seem to be in crisis.
  2. The crisis is never as bad it sounds.
  3. The solution could easily make things worse.

The negativity effect isn’t going to disappear — evolution has wired it into our brains — and the merchants of bad won’t voluntarily go out of business. They don’t want us to see how much better things keep getting without their help. But they can be resisted, and the book offers some specific proposals for cutting the profits of doom and restoring sanity to public discourse. Read the whole thing (and enjoy a happier new year).


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