Coming up with unreal fears has become its own industry. It consists of producing and selling a fictitious economic good or service to satisfy a need fabricated out of half-truths or total lies. The goal of those carrying out this modern day scam is to substitute decentralized and individual risk management with State management. This would allow for large transfers of resources expropriated thanks to social alarm and which land in the hands of “lobbyists” and professional cheerleaders of artificial fear.
A recent report from the Instituto Económico Molinari reveals the sinister effects of this industrial exploitation of artificial, overblown or simply made up fear. The example that best illustrates the study’s theory is the prohibition on DDT put into effect due to the disproportionate social somersaults Rachel Carson´s book Silent Spring caused. Eliminating this risk has created a new one: the risk for millions of people of contracting malaria. One of the report’s main virtues lies in demonstrating State management of risk –after having previously expropriated our right to manage different dangers on our own– does not mean eliminating uncertainty but rather worsening it to unsuspected levels.
Whether it is DDT or global warming or one of the other many fear industries calculated advertising bombardments convince us to buy into, the fraud usually works in the following way: first, they invent or magnify some fear; second, they design a strategy to produce terrifying news reports; the lobby or pressure group (often greener than a watermelon) try to take advantage of the social alarm they have managed to raise to gain particular, privileged concessions from the State at the rest of society’s expense. A typical scam promotes the idea that they, the pressure group, have the solution to the great danger threatening a great number of people. This solution usually is based, at least in part, on State action. This is why, in general, it is fairly easy for the lobby to secure advertising and financial support from public administrations and the political class.At the process’s end, the fear producers have gotten rich off the money people give them or from a massive redistribution of wealth undertaken for them by the State. What also happens, and perhaps this is even more worrisome, is that State risk management fosters new dangers which, because they usually arise from some prohibition, are difficult to get rid of. To everything we must add an additional dose of uncertainty stemming from the tremendous judicial insecurity this fear industry has generated. In this, as in many other cases of state economic intervention, the remedy is always infinitely worse than the supposed sickness.