The pessimism industry has grown exponentially in modern times.

It found its stride in the early 1800s, after Thomas Robert Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population. In it, he claimed that humankind was doomed because, sometime in the next one-hundred years, the population would inevitably outrun food supply.

Subsequently, many “Malthusians” welcomed famines and epidemics as opportunities for the population to “correct itself.”

To this day, Malthus’s mindset is the foundation and inspiration for much of the contemporary pessimism industry. 

For instance, Paul Ehrlich, Stanford professor and author of The Population Bomb, predicted in 1968 that hundreds of millions would die of starvation in the 1970s and that life expectancy would plummet in the 1980s.

It didn’t happen. 

The infamous Club of Rome report published in 1972 said we’d run out of raw materials by the 1990s.


In 1989, a UN official declared that entire nations could be underwater by the year 2000 if the global warming trend—which, we’re told by experts, is primarily caused by the existence of too many people doing too many things—wasn’t reversed; similarly, in 2006, Al Gore prophesied a twenty-foot surge in sea levels in the near future; and in 2008, the Western media apparatus was blazoning forecasts of an ice-free Arctic by 2013.

None of these presentiments came to pass. 

The same pattern can be observed in just about every area of human activity in just about every period of history. 

In 1881, doomers at The New York Times decried telegraphy as dangerous and even cited research from a “prominent academic journal” that claimed that wrapping the earth in telegraphic wire could disrupt our planet’s axis and in turn “upset the whole time table of the solar system, and bring about a series of frightful collisions.”

Somehow, the cosmos scraped through.

In the 1950s, a geologist named M. King Hubbert developed an influential theory that global oil production would soon peak and then decline, leading to economic instability, social unrest, and even war. Instead, oil production boomed in the decades that followed, contributing to an explosive growth in global prosperity. 

Fittingly, portentous Peak Oil prognoses have persisted with new timelines.

In the 1970s and 1980s, scientists observed bacteria developing a resistance to antibiotics, and some authorities were convinced that this trend would continue inexorably until routine surgeries are perilous and infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and sepsis are untreatable.

Yet again, however, the optimists prevailed—new drugs and alternative therapies were developed, medical procedures were improved, and public health strategies were upgraded.

In his 2007 memoir, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan warned that interest rates would soon soar to disastrously high levels. One year later, however, the Fed Funds rate fell to near zero and remained at historically low levels for over a decade.

Even as far back as 250 B.C., the Roman poet Plautus satirized the technophobic hand-wringing of his time by lamenting the proliferation of sundials:

The gods confound the man who first found

out how to distinguish hours! Confound him too

Who in this place set up a sundial

To cut and hack my days so wretchedly

Into small portions! When I was a boy,

My belly was my sundial: one more sure, Truer, and more exact than any of them.

This dial told me when it was time

To go to dinner, when I had anything to eat;

But nowadays, why even when I have, I can’t fall-to unless the sun gives leave.

The town’s so full of these confounded dials,

The greatest part of its inhabitants,

Shrunk up with hunger, creep along the streets.

None of that is to say humanity isn’t faced with serious problems or that seriously bad things can’t or don’t happen, of course—only that extreme worst-case scenarios used to convince us that the end is always near are also almost always extremely unlikely to occur. Even the proverbial collapse of the Roman Empire took hundreds of years longer than many contemporary pundits expected, and then, it didn’t shatter so much as splinter, and the eastern offcut, which became known as the Byzantine Empire, endured, and at times, thrived, for another 1,000 years.

Moreover, if someone chooses to believe the scaremongers (and it is a choice and belief) yet doesn’t take any constructive action as a result (plan, prepare, etc.), what are they accomplishing, exactly? If a tidal wave is sweeping toward their town, what good is even knowing or caring if they can’t even be bothered to even get off the couch? Or maybe that’s the point? An excuse to stay on the couch? And maybe that’s what the cassandras really want—corpses on couches?

Maybe, then, we should weary of all the catastrophizing and stop taking the bait? Maybe it’s time to turn off the news, stop the doomscrolling, and shun the Current Thing? Maybe it’s time to get aggressively pessimistic about the pessimism industry?