"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Visions of the Future
When I was in college, I took four economics courses: Principles of Macro, Principles of Micro, and Intermediate Macro and Intermediate Micro. Half of the material -- the free market half -- made sense. The other half, being Keynesian/Marxist nonsense, should have been junked 60 years ago.
The gobbledygook half consisted of equations such as Y = C+I+G, one line that is supposed to run the entire US economy. Then there were absolutely preposterous graphs such as ISLM curves. While taking these classes, I decided all mainstream economists are incompetent, and realized whatever they advise, the best thing is to do the exact opposite. That old joke is true -- if you laid them in a line, they'd all point in different directions.
The visions of the future of these economists are the delusions of semi-autistic, second-rate mathematicians who think the world can be run by a few people using simple algebraic equations and graphs. That's not much of a vision; actually it's a retrograde one. I've lost my faith -- if I ever had any -- in intellectuals. To be fair, I should say, "court intellectuals." A true intellectual is one who does not support the State.
One of the few sensible things they told the classes was that what a person makes is based on how productive he is. They left it at that. They didn't expand on it and explain it means using machines. The more a person can produce with machines, the more money he makes. A farmer is going to be much more productive with a tractor than a using a stick as a hoe, and therefore make much more money. Obviously, technology is our friend.
There is even a law that explains how machines increase our wages: Cooper's Law, which states, "All machines are amplifiers." They amplify abilities we already have.
Yet, ultimately, machines are not what increases our wages. It's our brains, which we use to manipulate our hands to build those machines. Brains -- intelligence -- is what is behind our ability to build machines. None of this was mentioned in any class I took in college.
There are other things which were never mentioned, such as the facts that in addition to brains, other things are necessary. A belief -- faith -- in the free market and liberty, even if the person doesn't understand how the free market works. But they can see the results of its wonders.
It was never mentioned the government can only harm the economy. Indeed, the exact opposite was taught, that the economy can't function properly unless the government is constantly interfering in it. I am reminded of what Chief Wiggum said in The Simpsons: "I didn't say the government couldn't harm you. I said it couldn't help you." It's an eternal truth they ignored because they didn't believe in it.
We weren't taught that technology is ultimately our friend, that whatever bad technology creates (such as pollution) it can also find a way to clean it up. Instead, in some classes we were told technology and humans damage the earth, as if we were a bunch of pre-Christian animists who believed spirits dwelled in various places, and unless we made the proper obeyances and sacrifices they would do Bad Things to us. Isn't that ultimately what the belief in earth as Gaia is about -- that if we aren't nice to it and sacrifice people to it, it'll croak us with global warming? (Thirty years ago it was global cooling being howled about.)
We were never told about the importance of creativity, curiosity and imagination in invention. Those three things, along with intelligence and freedom, are what humans use to advance themselves and society along with them. Instead it was suggested to us that humans are an overpopulated blight on the planet.
There was a time not so long ago when people were impressed by the free market and the various widgets it was constantly creating to improve people's lives. Now we've got George Bush, supposedly a conservative, telling us to "conserve" (which is what I expect from a liberal) instead of saying, "Hey, you know, the entire universe is energy. We've just got to liberate the free market, and people's intelligence, creativity, imagination and curiosity to realize a way to suck what we need straight out of the ol' space-time continuum." It's a failure of nerve, and of brains, and of imagination. It's a blinkered -- or maybe blind -- view of the future.
I have a different, and more optimistic view. It's one in which the government isn't one-third of the economy and sucking up half of people's incomes. It's a world without public schools crushing kids' spirits. It's a free world. And in that world inventions come whizzing at us like crazy. And without the government as a parasite, wages skyrocket.
Most people don't know it, but the Dark Ages weren't so dark. Read Jean Gimpel's The Medieval Machine sometime. For all the book's flaws, it gives a fascinating insight into an era that was a cornucopia of inventions. And why was that time so fertile? Because of freedom. Where would we be if freedom had been the natural condition of mankind instead of the exception? Five thousand years ahead of where we are now? All diseases eradicated? Who knows?
Why weren't these inventions pouring out of the rest of the world? Out of the much older cultures of China and India ? Perhaps they were ancient and static? It was the technological explosion in Europe , created by freedom -- especially of the mind -- that spread to the rest of the world.
Maybe it was all that science fiction I read as a teenager that gave me a more optimistic view of the future, in fact an unlimited future. The writer Norman Spinrad said it is the only visionary and transformational literature. He may be right. "What's now proved was once only imagined," wrote William Blake. "Everything that can be imagined is an image of the truth."
Look at Jules Verne. There was a Frenchman who essentially predicted every major invention of the 20th Century. Now that was a visionary man. These days, France no longer produces men like Verne, only decadent and superfluous intellectuals like Jean-Paul Sartre. That's what happens when people no longer look optimistically to the future, and instead blame their problems on other countries and pine for their non-existent Golden Age. I hope our time never comes.
Ninety-nine percent of the science fiction in the world comes from the US and England -- even now, the two most free counties in the world. The rest of the world essentially creates none of it. Do the inhabitants lack the vision and therefore the ability to transform their cultures? Perhaps Proverbs was right: "Where there is no vision the people perish."
"I get tired of the naysayers and the environmental extremists," says writer James P. Hogan, author of Bug Park. "We have the ability, right now, to feed, educate, and take care of every human being in the world. We have the knowledge and ability to solve all the material problems that homo sapiens faces on Earth. The imagined crises with energy and so forth that we hear all about are needless political creations, not something imposed on us by reality."
Now that is an inspiring vision of the future, based on good ideas. And as Richard Weaver wrote in a book of the same name, Ideas Have Consequences. The ideas of Hogan and people like him are far better than the moaning and groaning of the naysayer Paul Ehrlich, who hasn't been right once in 40 years and even sterilized himself because of his belief in "overpopulation." I can only add: good riddance. The next one who needs to go is Peter Singer, who sings the praises of killing infants and old people, and sex with monkeys.
Right now we have enough free market in the US to keep us going for a long time. But the bigger the government gets, the more inventions are diverted to military uses, the more people look to the past instead of the future, the more they seek to return to some fictional non-technological Garden of Eden, the more they believe in force instead of persuasion, the more they believe in war and destruction as creation, the worse things will get all around. Those are laws of human nature, and you can bank on them. Fortunately, we still have plenty of time left to turn things around, if only we have the vision.