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Matt Ridley is the author of provocative books on evolution, genetics and society. His books have sold over a million copies, been translated into thirty languages, and have won several awards.

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Technology 1 Therapy 0 in Chile

Market innovation helped the miners; counselling was counter-productive

Today I read two contrasting articles about the wonderful rescue of the Chilean miners that I strongly recommend, even though both are a few days old.

The first, by Brendan O'Neill, in Spiked (hat tip: Frank Stott), reveals the degree to which the miners helped themselves to cope by defying the psychological experts 700 metres above them.

The inconvenient truth is that the 33 miners survived underground not as a result of psychological advice and intervention but by sometimes rebellingagainst the psychologists who kept a watchful eye on their every move. The real story of the Chilean miners, for anyone who cares to look, is that the interventions of the various wings of the trauma industry often make things worse rather than better, and people are mostly happier and healthier without them. 

When they rebelled against having hour-long sessions with therapists, the therapists punished them by witholding treats!

The way the men were treated was like a microcosm of today's therapy industry. The censoring of letters spoke to the idea that people are psychologically fragile and easily harmed by other people's words. The deprivation of certain 'prizes' if they didn't speak to the mental-health team revealed the authoritarian dynamic behind today's therapeutic interventions. The notion that they wouldn't survive without external expertise highlighted the general view of all of us as needing guidance from the new gods of emotional correctness.

The second article, by Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal, reminds us forcibly that it was market-driven innovation that saved the miners' lives. Take the center Rock drill bit, for example:

This is the miracle bit that drilled down to the trapped miners. Center Rock Inc. is a private company in Berlin, Pa. It has 74 employees. The drill's rig came from Schramm Inc. in West Chester, Pa. Seeing the disaster, Center Rock's president, Brandon Fisher, called the Chileans to offer his drill. Chile accepted. The miners are alive.

It was not a government that invented this technology, nor was life-saving the motive for inventing it.

The Center Rock drill, heretofore not featured on websites like Engadget or Gizmodo, is in fact a piece of tough technology developed by a small company in it for the money, for profit. That's why they innovated down-the-hole hammer drilling. If they make money, they can do more innovation.

Undirected innovation raises living standards all over the world. And it raised the miners, too.