It’s true that there might indeed be a conspiracy at work somewhere, but as I explained earlier, it’s all to easy for people to try to simplify a complex social phenomenon by blaming it on a conspiracy. Our society is immensely complicated, and lots of things happen not because somebody organized a secret group to make them happen, but because the workings of society are so complicated.

A good example is the movement of most prices. In an open market with plenty of competition among both sellers and buyers, the price of a product is determined by a statistical balance between the needs and desires of sellers and buyers. But when either side (usually the seller) can somehow right the situation to reduce competition, they can artificially boost the price. This happens a lot with health care because we don’t have a dozen hospitals in every town. We have a lot more gas stations than hospitals, so gas prices tend to be more competitive than hospital prices.

There have been hundreds of studies showing how readily sellers rig prices if given the opportunity. The government is supposed to keep a lid on this, but in general government regulation of this kind of behavior has been loosening for decades.

Outside of economics, however, conspiracies are a lot harder to pull off. The problem is “defection” — it takes only one person to spill the beans and the conspiracy is revealed. For example, some people used to claim that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of scientists. That claim is preposterous, because there are tens of thousands of people who have direct access to the data and defection would be inevitable.

So the best way to determine whether there’s a conspiracy at work is to ask how difficult defection would be. That’s why most conspiracy theories about the media are so stupid. There are literally thousands of different news sources, and most of them operate in different environments. Why in the world would the people at the Chicago Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, and the New York Times even WANT to collude in hiding the truth? That would be an existential risk for them: if people in Houston learn that the Houston Chronicle has been lying to them, they’ll stop buying the paper and the Chronicle goes bankrupt. What in the world could motivate those people to do something so dangerous? It makes no sense.

So a good question to ask is, how big is the community that makes the claim that you think questionable? The bigger and more diverse it is, the lower the chance of a conspiracy.

Master of Science, Physics, 1975. Computer Game Designer. Interactive Storytelling. www.erasmatazz.com

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