sábado, 26 de noviembre de 2011

Como hacer un buen argumento...

Leyendo SuperFreakonomics de Levitt y Dubner me crucé con este buen ejemplo de buena argumentación:

"When the world was lurching into the modern era, it grew magnificently more populous, and in a hurry. Most of this expansion took place in urban centers like London, Paris, New York, and Chicago. In the United States alone, cities grew by 30 million residents during the nineteenth century, with half of that gain in just the final twenty years.

But as this swarm of humanity moved itself, and its goods, from place to place, a problem emerged. The main mode of transportation produced a slew of the by-products that economists call negative externalities, including gridlock, high insurance costs, and far too many traffic fatalities. Crops that would have landed on a family’s dinner table were sometimes converted into fuel, driving up food prices and causing shortages. Then there were the air pollutants and toxic emissions, endangering the environment as well as individuals’ health.

We are talking about the automobile—aren’t we?"

"No, we’re not. We are talking about the horse. The horse, a versatile and powerful helpmate since the days of antiquity, was put to work in many ways as modern cities expanded: pulling streetcars and private coaches, hauling construction materials, unloading freight from ships and trains, even powering the machines that churned out furniture, rope, beer, and clothing. If your young daughter took gravely ill, the doctor rushed to your home on horseback. When a fire broke out, a team of horses charged through the streets with a pumping truck. At the turn of the twentieth century, some 200,000 horses lived and worked in New York City, or 1 for every 17 people.

But oh, the troubles they caused!

Horse-drawn wagons clogged the streets terribly, and when a horse broke down, it was often put to death on the spot. This caused further delays. Many stable owners held life-insurance policies that, to guard against fraud, stipulated the animal be euthanized by a third party. This meant waiting for the police, a veterinarian, or the ASPCA to arrive. Even death didn’t end the gridlock. “Dead horses were extremely unwieldy,” writes the transportation scholar Eric Morris. “As a result, street cleaners often waited for the corpses to putrefy so they could more easily be sawed into pieces and carted off.”

The noise from iron wagon wheels and horseshoes was so disturbing—it purportedly caused widespread nervous disorders—that some cities banned horse traffic on the streets around hospitals and other sensitive areas. And it was frighteningly easy to be struck down by a horse or wagon, neither of which is as easy to control as they appear in the movies, especially on slick, crowded city streets. In 1900, horse accidents claimed the lives of 200 New Yorkers, or 1 of every 17,000 residents. In 2007, meanwhile, 274 New Yorkers died in auto accidents, or 1 of every 30,000 residents. This means that a New Yorker was nearly twice as likely to die from a horse accident in 1900 than from a car accident today. (There are unfortunately no statistics available on drunk horse-drivers, but we can assume the number would be menacingly high.)

Worst of all was the dung. The average horse produced about 24 pounds of manure a day. With 200,000 horses, that’s nearly 5 million pounds of horse manure. A day. Where did it go? Decades earlier, when horses were less plentiful in cities, there was a smooth-functioning market for manure, with farmers buying it to truck off (via horse, of course) to their fields. But as the urban equine population exploded, there was a massive glut. In vacant lots, horse manure was piled as high as sixty feet. It lined city streets like banks of snow. In the summertime, it stank to the heavens; when the rains came, a soupy stream of horse manure flooded the crosswalks and seeped into people’s basements. Today, when you admire old New York brownstones and their elegant stoops, rising from street level to the second-story parlor, keep in mind that this was a design necessity, allowing a homeowner to rise above the sea of horse manure.

All of this dung was terrifically unhealthy. It was a breeding ground for billions of flies that spread a host of deadly diseases. Rats and other vermin swarmed the mountains of manure to pick out undigested oats and other horse feed—crops that were becoming more costly for human consumption thanks to higher horse demand. No one at the time was worried about global warming, but if they had been, the horse would have been Public Enemy No. 1, for its manure emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

In 1898, New York hosted the first international urban planning conference. The agenda was dominated by horse manure, because cities around the world were experiencing the same crisis. But no solution could be found. “Stumped by the crisis,” writes Eric Morris, “the urban planning conference declared its work fruitless and broke up in three days instead of the scheduled ten.” The world had seemingly reached the point where its largest cities could not survive without the horse but couldn’t survive with it, either.

And then the problem vanished. It was neither government fiat nor divine intervention that did the trick. City dwellers did not rise up in some mass movement of altruism or self-restraint, surrendering all the benefits of horse power. The problem was solved by technological innovation. No, not the invention of a dung-less animal. The horse was kicked to the curb by the electric streetcar and the automobile, both of which were extravagantly cleaner and far more efficient. The automobile, cheaper to own and operate than a horse-drawn vehicle, was proclaimed “an environmental savior.”

Cities around the world were able to take a deep breath—without holding their noses at last—and resume their march of progress. The story, unfortunately, does not end there.

The solutions that saved the twentieth century seem to have imperiled the twenty-first, because the automobile and electric streetcar carried their own negative externalities. The carbon emissions spat out over the past century by more than 1 billion cars and thousands of coal-burning power plants seem to have warmed the earth’s atmosphere. Just as equine activity once threatened to stomp out civilization, there is now a fear that human activity will do the same. Martin Weitzman, an environmental economist at Harvard, argues there is a roughly 5 percent chance that global temperatures will rise enough to “effectively destroy planet Earth as we know it.” In some quarters— the media, for instance, which never met a potential apocalypse it didn’t like—the fatalism runs even stronger. This is perhaps not very surprising. When the solution to a given problem doesn’t lay right before our eyes, it is easy to assume that no solution exists. But history has shown again and again that such assumptions are wrong."

5 comentarios:

  1. Felicitaciones! Dobles felicitaciones! Está tan de moda pensar que la civilización trae solamente malas consecuencias, que con frecuencia olvidamos los horrores en que vivían nuestros padres, abuelos o bisabuelos. Según el censo argentino de 1914, la expectativa de vida de la población (una de las más ricas del mundo) era de 38 años. En 2011, después de sufrir un atraso auto-ingligido que nos ha hecho retroceder varias docenas de lugares en el ranking, nuestra expectativa de vida es el doble de entonces, y nuestra calidad de vida mucho mejor. Podría ser aún mayor si no hubiéramos conspirado entre todos para sabotear nuestro futuro durante décadas. "La Argentina ha llegado al subdesarrollo gracias a su propio esfuerzo", decía Raúl Prebisch. Aun así ha mejorado. Pero podría haber mejorado mucho más, solo con un poquito más de sensatez. Esperemos que en los próximos cien años las cosas resulten un poco mejor.

  2. Es un ejemplo muy bueno, doy clases en una materia denominada planificación. Los alumnos creían que se podía planificar todo y que los comites de "sabios" tenían la posta, sin embargo la tecnología aún tiene mucho por decir.

    Es buena la parte que habla de la India.

  3. Nací en 1946, así que cuando era chico en Buenos Aires todavía había carros de caballos en la calle. No muchos, pero no era una sorpresa ver uno. Mis padres nacieron entre 1900 y 1910, mi abuela (la única que vivía cuando yo era chico) en 1888. Jamás oí a nadie, ni cuando yo era chico hablando sobre el presente, o rememorando, diciendo que que bendición el auto porque había resuelto el problema de la bosta, y los temas relacionados que menciona el texto que citás. Era una bendición por velocidad, facilidad de mantenimiento, etc, pero la bosta nunca fue un problema serio, ni que hablar al grado de las emisiones de hidrocarburos.

    Dickens, Zola o cualquier realista del siglo XIX, no menciona la bosta como problema. Desechos humanos sí, basura, pobreza, hacinamiento, pero la bosta no. En las crónicas de Buenos Aires colonial, el problema en las calles eran los restos sin vender que tiraban los carniceros, las aguas servidas y cloacales de las casas, y los animales muertos, no la bosta.

    A pesar de lo que dicen los autores citados, la bosta huele mucho menos que la versión humana. Los caballos o las vacas no comen proteina animal. Que es la causa del olor feroz, y de las bacterias que causan infecciones terribles. Nadie se pesca nada espantoso por comer una verdura en descomposición, a diferencia de carne podrida. Motivo por el que a las moscas las atrae mucho mas la bosta humana que la animal vegetariana.

    Sin duda la tecnología resuelve problemas, pero invocar uno que nunca lo fue no me parece la forma mas efectiva de presentar el caso.

    1. Y Guillermo nos acaba de mostrar como algo que parecía un buen argumento, cae cuando los hechos que lo respaldan no son más que una mera ficción. Nada mejor que buenas soluciones para problemas que no existen!