Our Unimaginable Wealth

in #hive-17306224 days ago (edited)

There are a lot of problems in the world today, and politicians clamor for our attention as they offer snake oil solutions, but let's take a step back and look at the world around us.

Glass, concrete, steel, plastics, silicon, ceramics, and engineered wood have transformed the world for all of us, and continue to be developed in new ways every day. You are doubtless reading this on some sort of computer, whether a desktop box or a smartphone or somewhere in between. It is made of a blend of materials sourced from around the world, engineered to astonishing precision, and more capable than anything the science fiction visionaries of the past could imagine.

Your device, whatever it is, runs on tamed lightning. Electricity is now ubiquitous. My grandfather was born in an era when it was still a novelty largely restricted to the urban elite. We use radio waves to link to the entire world now, whether via local wifi or international satellite connections. When my grandfather was a lad, his hobby in amateur radio was cutting-edge technology.

And that is just one aspect of our everyday life where we have wealth unimaginable a mere century ago. People scoff at the idea of "trickle-down economics" as if it were pure poppycock, but technology does demonstrably trickle down, and luxuries a generation ago are commonplace today. Huge flatscreen televisions have become ubiquitous today, yet our parents likely remember when mere color TV was special, and our grandparents remember when any tiny black-and-white television at all was a miracle.

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Mechanization is also demonized as a dehumanizing force, but it frees laborers from dangerous drudgery and allows us to have amazingly spacious homes filled with marvelous materials and technological wizardry. This is an insane level of real, practical wealth at our fingertips, and it is so inexpensive that we take it for granted or even deem it disposable.

When my grandfather was a farmer, machines multiplied his productivity. That is why they were embraced by the very workers they were assumed to be displacing. Mechanization has never resulted in systemic unemployment, even though it is undeniably disruptive to the status quo.

This is the magic of the market. An invisible hand you don't even see at work, because it is the effect of millions upon millions of people working together without even realizing how they are cooperating. The result is our unimaginable wealth compared to what people had even a century ago. It has brought insane change into our lives, and change is uncomfortable. There are consequences we need to address, including pollution. But to deny the benefit is insanity.

So pause a moment and reflect on what makes your life more comfortable, more entertaining, and more productive. It wasn't politics that made it that way. It was the market of people striving to benefit themselves by benefiting you, and no one needed to guide it or plan it out. Anarchy works, and your lifestyle is proof.

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Even veganism. That kind of selectivity in diet, while still maintaining healthy vitamin and mineral intake; would've been unthinkably decadent even 50 years ago.
I know people who work part time, on a couch, on a computer, at home; and spend the rest of the week watching Netflix, and consider themselves poor.
Leisure time is wealth. Two hundred years ago, only the wealthiest people had days off. If you didn't spend your RDO fishing, crabbing, or otherwise foraging for food; you're incredibly wealthy.

Hey friend,

Great observations...

If you're familiar with the Human Action Principles lectures and/or the V50 lectures, I would love to hear your comments about how they present intellectual property.

If you aren't, I can't recommend them highly enough:


This is in response to your comments on Wilbur and Orville and their intellectual property. The present patent system certainly may not be the way to protect it, but inventors and innovators have typically been severely undervalued and under-compensated...


I am more inclined to Stephan Kinsella's arguments. You don't own the minds and property of others. IP laws are used to violate, not protect, property rights. Such rights can only apply to scarce goods, not ephemeral ideas.

On a more practical level, inventions do not tend to come from the workshops of lone inventors, and it is the lone inventor who cannot hire a stable of attorneys who suffers most from impositions by patent trolls and megacorporations.

As a lone inventor myself, I am very sympathetic to the plight of isolated, unfunded individuals who create ideas but do not have the means to either fully develop or protect them. In an ideal world, the value created by such would be universally recognized and compensation would be voluntarily thrust upon them out of sheer gratitude, if nothing else.

Thanks for mentioning Kinsella. The name is familiar, but I need to read him and consider his viewpoint.

I am a named inventor on several patents that were works for hire, and so I do not own the rights. I was compensated during the development of the technologies, but enjoy no residual compensation. Nevertheless, the patents have been an outstanding form of personal credentialing. I have also developed products and processes that I have not patented myself, choosing rather to protect the ideas simply by means of not revealing internal details.

BTW, I'm just seeing your much appreciated response today...

This is an area of considerable interest to me as a "lone inventor," and one I would love to discuss further. As a general summary, I think that progress in all areas has been hampered most directly by the perpetual theft and oppression of the state, and by the reluctance of people to accept new ideas (kind of what I think @steampunkkaja is saying) than by inventors who try to protect their own ideas. And that turtle-like response on the part of we inventors is, of course, a rather natural reaction to the predatory nature of the state, not to mention the other individual and corporate actors who tend to swoop in and plunder good ideas.

P.S. @jacobtothe

BTW, I am in violent agreement with the thesis of your article! Mankind is far better off as a result of the free market and the intellectual capital from all the innovators who have developed the goods and services that make the world go 'round. I am very much in favor of win-win strategies and authentic freedom to innovate, buy, and sell. We could all prosper and progress beyond our wildest dreams in a truly free world. And I don't recall whether you've seen my "Fountain of Youth" series on Hydrogen for Health? (Brown's gas, or HHO). I'm indebted to things I've learned from George Wiseman, and I've open-sourced a great deal of the information I've learned and developed in that series.

My grandfather who was born in 1901 once mentioned that, during his lifetime, the Wright brothers flew at Kittyhawk and men walked on the moon.

The Wrights flew by their own finance and ingenuity. Then they immediately tried to patent and license their ideas and stifled American innovation in aviation for more than a decade.

NASA flew to the moon in an international dick measuring contest. It took people like Howard Hughes to make space economically useful to the masses. I wonder who the Elon Musk of the 1950s & 60s would have been had NASA not held a monopoly on rocketry.

This comment has been bugging me for a while, but I didn't quite know how to respond until now. Before I go into my issues with it, I'd like you to know that I shared your original post on LinkedIn, so I write this not just for you, but for a broader audience.

Much as I understand the argument for patents stifling innovation (though I don't necessarily agree with it, that is a discussion for another time), I was always under the impression that American aviation was slow to develop simply because of lack of interest. William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin (British, not American, but the point still stands), famously said that "heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible," and while that doesn't explain birds, given his status, many people stubbornly continued to believe him even after he was proven wrong. Bear in mind, this was in the days of balloons and early dirigibles, both of which worked better than the first aeroplanes. There are many more examples of people dismissing the idea of the aeroplane out of ignorance and complacency, so I think I'll stick with the saying "never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity" on this one.

Regarding your second point - you're absolutely right. Once again, however, lack of interest was a bit of a problem, hence no further space exploration for decades once the race to the moon was over. If the public voted not to continue and thus de-fund NASA, I'm sure that no private space venture would have gotten off the ground - literally (I'm speaking strictly of civilian space flights, not satellite launches). I'm not sure, were there no international competition between the USA and USSR, that innovation in rocketry would have ever advanced to the point that it did in 1969. Furthermore, both powers built on previous experiments performed by the Nazis for the purpose of war. I wonder, had the travesty that was Nazi Germany never existed, would rocketry have ever become as advanced as it did? Perhaps it would by now, given that advancements in one area of technology can affect another. My favourite example is that my Ti-89 graphing calculator has more computing power than all of Houston did in 1969. My second-favourite is that guided missiles and ROVs were once the pinnacle of military ordinance - now they are literal child's play.

The Wrights spent the next decade plus after Kitty Hawk in litigation against rival aviation pioneers in the US. Meanwhile, their European counterparts advanced by leaps and bounds.

I'm quite familiar with the patent war; its affect on American aviation is disputed, which is why I think there's more to the story. After all, the Wrights sued several European aircraft manufacturers as well. The French ruled in the Wrights' favour; the Germans didn't. Furthermore, none of the Wrights' litigation seemed to stop Glenn Curtiss, who famously said "if someone jumped into the air and flapped their arms, the Wrights would sue."