Social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff tells a story in her new book. One night, lightning strikes her house during a heavy storm. There is smoke. She knows she must leave the house. But first, she runs around closing doors to the bedrooms to keep smoke out and maintain their freshness. On her way out the front door, a fireman grabs her and pulls her out into the rain. Almost immediately, the house explodes into flames and burns to the ground.
Just seconds before, Zuboff’s biggest concern was preventing the bedrooms (ones that she assumed her family would sleep in later that same night) from smelling like smoke. She had not been capable of perceiving the situation because she had never seen it before. So she had risked her life solving a problem that didn’t need solving. The smell in the bedrooms does not matter if the bedrooms will cease to exist in five minutes. Zuboff’s larger point, though, is that most of what we talk about in economics and politics today is the equivalent of closing the bedroom doors in a fire.