Hothouse of hate
If ignorance was the
state of man in the Garden of Eden, then the much-hyped 'Eden Project' in
Cornwall is living up to its name. The Eden Project is a none too impressive
botanical garden that advertises itself as an educational project and a "stage
where science, art and technology blend to tell the story of our place in nature".
Instead of what's promised, visitors get a farrago of false statistics, economic
gibberish and pseudo-science, all neatly contained in a second-rate terrarium.
The very first thing
to greet visitors is a giant display of statistical ignorance drawn, I learnt,
from a bit of Internet spam that's been doing the rounds for years. Virtually
none of what it claims is true, and some of it is downright hateful. According
to the display, “If we could shrink the Earth to a village with a population
of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same,
there would be…”, followed by a set of absurd claims dressed up as facts,
such as “21 would be European” (try 12), “70 would be unable to read”
(actually about 16, off by only 54), “89 would be heterosexual, 11 would be
homosexual” (reliable studies indicate between 2 and 4 per cent of males are
homosexual), and so on.
Much more important,
however, was the following: 'Six people would possess 59 per cent of the entire
world's wealth and would be from the United States'. Now that can't be true for
several reasons, the first of which is that the United States has only about 4.6
per cent of the world's population, not 6 per cent. Second, not all Americans
are rich and not all non-Americans arc poor. Third, there is no reliable data
available on shares of “the
entire world's wealth”. (As the World Bank puts it, “Unfortunately we don't
have a standard way of defining wealth. Wealth requires an evaluation of all
productive assets, which accumulate and depreciate over years.”)
Fourth, the data that we do have on gross national income by country
indicates that the United States produces a bit more than 31 per cent - not 59
per cent - of aggregate world income.
Two things are
notable about those figures. First, gross national income represents the
production of value, not control over natural resources. Americans are
disproportionately wealthy compared with other countries because they are
disproportionately productive. And they are so productive because their
institutions - courts, markets, property registries, and so on - work relatively
well. The production of value is not a zero or negative sum game; increasing
productivity in one country docs not decrease it elsewhere. In fact, the
evidence is overwhelming that increasing productivity for one group tends to
increase it among its trading partners, as it means greater opportunities for
the division of labour, greater reliance on comparative advantage, and richer
consumers of imports from trading partners. Even more striking, there is a
negative correlation between natural resource endowment and average income;
countries richly endowed with natural resources (think oil, gold or diamonds)
tend to have lower average incomes than less richly endowed countries, partly
because parasitic thugs grab control of those resources and use the wealth to
cement their dictatorial rule. The
wealth of nations is produced by human ingenuity and voluntary co-operation. It
is not determined to any substantial degree by natural endowments. Wealth is not
something that just happens.
disproportionate statistics could have been brought up about France (0.97 per
cent of world population but 4.4 per cent of world income), Sweden (0.14
per cent of world population but 0.71 per cent of world income) and, indeed, any
of the other productive and prosperous countries of Europe or Asia. The display
that greets visitors to the Eden Project implies that the people of the United
States have somehow grabbed control of most of 'the entire world's wealth', when
the fact is that they produce nearly a third of the value produced worldwide
What the Eden
Project was putting on display is, quite simply, hate propaganda of the sort
that has traditionally been manifested as anti-Semitism. It would be made more
obvious if they had written instead a pseudo-fact like the following: "One
person would possess 12 per cent of the world's wealth and would be a Jew."
In recent years American-baiting has become the favourite sport of small minds.
throughout the rather poorly arranged botanical gardens were claims such as,
“Around 90 per cent of futures contracts are on paper and don't involve coffee
at all.” Quelle surprise! Futures contracts involve trades of future coffee: that is,
coffee that hasn't been harvested yet.
Even dumber, however, were claims that “Futures markets protect
traders, but not small producers, from price changes.” Being able to sell next
year’s crop at a guaranteed price today is of some benefit to a farmer, or he
wouldn't do it. Futures contracts allow farmers to transfer their risk to people
better placed or willing to handle it. Without such markets, prices would
fluctuate far more, to the detriment of farmers.
When I was
photographing the welcoming display of misinformation, a very friendly lady
offered me a printed version of the text. I asked where the information had come
from, and she said that “someone had seen it on the Internet” and so they'd
put it up. Evidently no effort whatsoever was made to check the veracity of
their claims. Even a quick check on an Internet search engine, such as
google.com, would have found that what was 'seen on the Internet' was a hoax, a
collection of urban myths even less credible than the stories of the alligators
in the New York sewage system or the giant Peruvian rat that tourists thought
was a dog. No doubt the “scientists” and “educators” at the Eden Project
have also responded to all the email offers from the heirs of Mobutu Sese Sekou
or Jonas Savimbi that offer to share £25 million with them, on condition that
they first wire £15,000 to an offshore account. It was, after all, “on the
Perhaps the Eden
Project's Primary claim to fame will be that it provided the backdrop to much of
the action in the latest James Bond cinematic thriller, Die Another Day. At
least the pseudo-scientific rubbish in the film was more entertaining than that
in the Eden Project.
By Tom Palmer Reprinted from The Spectator 22 Feb 2003
Eden project's spokesman admitted the errors of fact when interviewed on the
BBC's Today programme, and claimed they had been corrected. Let us
know if you see any more.
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