The Curve Ball and Opportunity Cost
The curve ball is actually a drop pitch (which makes sense when you consider that the bat is about 10 times longer than it is wide – whole different subject. Sorry). It falls faster than the batter expects it to. Because there is only a tiny incremental change from the expected to the actual at any given point, it takes awhile for this difference to accumulate. Even 10 feet away from the batter, the difference isn’t that great. The difference in both drop and angle of drop finally becomes large in the last few feet, giving the impression that the ball “drops off the table” when it is thrown particularly well.
We are warned that something similar will happen with temperature - or population, disease, and a dozen other things. Those may not happen, as other factors come into play, but the principle holds: some effects are cumulative, and not noticeable until it’s too late.
Opportunity cost can follow this pattern if the cost persists. If you lose $10, what you would have bought instead might not be easily identifiable. If you lose $10/day, you can usually trace what else in your life has to go to make up for the loss. Let’s say you figure out that the tenner per diem would have gone into savings that would have collected interest, or training that would get you a much better-paying job. You discover that this opportunity cost thing may be costing you even more.
In one sense, you are not losing anything, because you just stay the same as you did last year, which is by definition endurable. Some people never notice what they have lost, just wandering along. Some quite happy. You can see why it would be an okay life – better, in fact, than many others live. Yet it is also easy to see how expensive this opportunity cost could become over time, for your life and your descendants.
Research is cumulative. Technology is cumulative. If we give up improving medical or energy knowledge this year, it costs us forever. We are always at least one year behind, and if we get into that bad habit, we fall further behind.
People die from this. We just can’t tell who.
On medical advances, for example, it just torques people off no end that pharmaceutical companies make money for anything other than noble-sounding endeavors. That they make their money on ED drugs, pain meds, and treatments for the cholesterol levels of people who eat at McDonalds doesn’t feel as noble as developing cancer pills for a buck apiece. If they had a side business producing cocaine to support their research on other stuff, it would still be a net gain to society.
I suspect that people clamoring for universal health coverage don’t really believe in the opportunity cost of no one being able to afford investment in research. The stimulus and budget include research funds, and that’s a good thing. You could perhaps even make an argument that we should strain every nerve and squeeze every nickel, impoverishing ourselves now for the sake of prosperity later. I wouldn’t, but one could. Market factors – allowing people to make money by developing those things – are going to be more powerful.
It is not a morally indefensible position to say “Heck, Europe funds universal health coverage, so we must be able to afford it. And they make medical advances too – oh, they don’t so much anymore? Oh, well - If we don’t make medical advances, we won’t really know who we’re refusing to save, so we’ll be happy enough.”
It just seems odd to call that idea progressive. It seems that progress toward a political ideal is worth more than, y’know, actual progress.
Repeat argument for food and starving populations.
Repeat argument for energy production and impoverished nations.
Repeat argument for educational technology.