Short term / Long term

Short term                           -                      Long term

One of the most exciting things about adolescent boys and girls can be said to be their idealism. They have not yet settled down into disillusionment, and the corollary of this is that they are free to formulate ideal plans.

It is not for the adolescent to take a long-term view, which may come more naturally to those who have lived through many decades and begun to grow old.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From: Essays by a Psychoanalyst, p. 165

"Let's save the planet for future generations, for our children, and their children."

These appeals are all but useless in the current cultural climate.

The more we swing toward a short-term pragmatist/materialist mentality the less we value long-term considerations. Thus, the voice that urges us to think in the long term - that warns of future dangers - is a weak one. 'The future' is little more than an abstraction; we do not care about 'the future' because it does not exist here, now.

We can see this on an individual level. Many of us may have an addiction that we know is harming us in the long term, and that may have catastrophic effects on us in the future. Yet, because we can continue to indulge in the present without any immediate ill effects - because judgement day has not yet arrived - concern for our future has little affect on our present actions. The short-term outweighs the long-term. This kind of thinking is encouraged and reinforced by the wider culture. It urges us to indulge. 'Fuck it'.

If we do not care about our own future as individuals, then what hope have we of caring about our future as a species?

Who is going to be willing to fight the enormous battle against their addictions - a battle waged in the palpable here-and-now - for an abstract concept like 'future generations'?

Appeals that attempt to make us change our immediate actions by gesturing towards future danger - "the icecaps will melt", "your liver will give up" - are more or less redundant. Calamity must strike - we must hit rock bottom - before we are willing to change anything. Faced with such calamity, many would choose to continue along their dysfunctional path (keep their addiction) rather than change. They would, in some cases, choose annihilation.

Such is the power of the short-term in these times.

Sometimes in order to fight something we must take an indirect - and often counter-intuitive - route. Perhaps, then, to prevent the icecaps from melting, we must promote a long-term mentality. The pendulum must begin to swing in the opposite direction.  

The most critical battlefield in this regard may be culture.

We must stop transmitting messages that urge us to think short-term. We need people of influence (celebrities) who endorse long-term thinking. The voice of wisdom - the voice of the elder - must return to guide us, rather than the voice of the reckless youth.

Not only is there respect for the aged, but authority is vested in the old people. This arrangement naturally lends itself to control of life by the aged.

Preservation of the religious ideals and mores is thereby ensured, and the younger people who are inclined to introduce change can be held in check.

A strong consciousness of kinship is peculiarly favourable to gerontocracy, or social control by the older members of society. This control is informal rather than formal, but is, nevertheless, "closer ti us than breathing, nearer than hands or feet."

The part that old people have "in drawing forth and molding the character and life-policy of every younger person in the kinship group makes the necessity for direct control much less frequent in an isolated culture than in more accessible communities."

The relatively integrated community is asscoaited with effective rules imposed by the aged, be they parents or church leaders. Thus deference to age pervades not only familial realtionships but also the religious leadership of the group.

Furthermore, the counsel of the older bishop or minister carries more authority than that of younger ones.

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 16-8

In economics, hyperbolic discounting is a time-inconsistent model of delay discounting.

The standard experiment used to reveal a test subject's hyperbolic discounting curve is to compare short-term preferences with long-term preferences. For instance: "Would you prefer a dollar today or three dollars tomorrow?" or "Would you prefer a dollar in one year or three dollars in one year and one day?"

It has been claimed that a significant fraction of subjects will take the lesser amount today, but will gladly wait one extra day in a year in order to receive the higher amount instead. Individuals with such preferences are described as "present-biased".

The most important consequence of hyperbolic discounting is that it creates temporary preferences for small rewards that occur sooner over larger, later ones. 

Individuals using hyperbolic discounting reveal a strong tendency to make choices that are inconsistent over time – they make choices today that their future self would prefer not to have made, despite knowing the same information. This dynamic inconsistency happens because hyperbolas distort the relative value of options with a fixed difference in delays in proportion to how far the choice-maker is from those options.

Hyperbolic discounting has also been found to relate to real-world examples of self-control. Indeed, a variety of studies have used measures of hyperbolic discounting to find that drug-dependent individuals discount delayed consequences more than matched nondependent controls, suggesting that extreme delay discounting is a fundamental behavioral process in drug dependence. Some evidence suggests pathological gamblers also discount delayed outcomes at higher rates than matched controls.

Whether high rates of hyperbolic discounting precede addictions or vice versa is currently unknown, although some studies have reported that high-rate discounters are more likely to consume alcohol and cocaine than lower-rate discounters. Likewise, some have suggested that high-rate hyperbolic discounting makes unpredictable (gambling) outcomes more satisfying.

'Hyperbolic discounting'

Wal-Mart's lengthy struggle to open in New York City has hit fresh problems -- a controversial report that said America's biggest discounter does not just sell cheap, it makes neighborhoods poorer.

"The overwhelming weight of the independent research on the impact of Wal-Mart stores ... shows that Wal-Mart depresses area wages and labor benefits ... pushes out more retail jobs than it creates, and results in more retail vacancies," [...]

New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio calls a possible Wal-Mart store in New York "a Trojan horse."

"It looks appealing to a lot of families who are hurting but it turns into a big problem in the long term because of the net elimination of jobs," de Blasio said.

"Wal-Mart draws ire even in poor parts of Brooklyn"

If both positive and negative consequences of an action fell on its author, our learning would be fast.

But often an action’s positive consequences benefit only its author, since they are visible, while the negative consequences, being invisible, apply to others, with net cost to society.

Consider job-protection measures: you notice those whose jobs are made safe and ascribe social benefits to such protections. You do not notice the effect on those who cannot find a job as a result, since the measure will reduce job openings. In some cases […] the positive consequences of an action will immediately benefit the politicians and phony humanitarians, while the negative ones take a long time to appear - they may never become noticeable.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 129

[…] iatrogenics, being a cost-benefit situation, usually results from the treacherous condition in which the benefits are small, and visible - and the costs very large, delayed, and hidden.

And of course, the potential costs are much worse than the cumulative gains.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
Antifragile, p. 340

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