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On the Virtues of the Modern Economy

Best thing I have read in a long time:

Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local, the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion is guaranteed. Sound idyllic?

But hold on… Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation; there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical work which may end up yielding little.

There is – or at least was – such a place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary, there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life.

Via Hit and Run.  I made a fairly similar point here when I compared California "robber baron" Mark Hopkins mid-19th century house to one a friend of mine used to own in Seattle:

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning, electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning, a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

Posted on August 30, 2007 at 01:30 PM | Permalink

Comments

I don't understand: why is the poor sod subjected to "an alarm clock that plays music in the morning"? Cruel and unnatural.

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 30, 2007 3:04:30 PM

I suspect, having been raised in Sacramento, that Mark Hopkins had to load his family into his private railcar and take them to some oceanside mansion for the summer. I just flip a switch.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis, P.E. | Aug 30, 2007 5:56:04 PM

The primary reason for the Greens to push the concerns of Global warming isn't to reduce CO2 emissions, but to abolish technological civilization. Reason, they even oppose nuclear fusion!

Get a load of this thread in PZ Meyer's Pharyngula Blog:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/08/dont_look_to_bjrn_lomborg_thou.php#comments

There are comments in support of Lomborg and against. I posted that it is better to replace fossil fuels with realistic alternatives (nuclear fission today, nuclear fusion tommorrow, etc) than using government coercion. One of those who supported coercion and opposed me (MikeB comment #100) said this, "As Al Capone once said, 'You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.'" That floored me!

Posters who acknowleged manmade causes of global warming but advocated alternate energy over coercion were vilified.

Posted by: Robert | Aug 30, 2007 8:03:02 PM

I remember your Hopkins post. It's remains one of the best I ever read.

Posted by: M. Hodak | Aug 30, 2007 8:07:45 PM

OTOH, Mark Hopkin's house was probably well-equipped with hot and cold running maids. There was no electric power, but the tycoons had more power over people - because back then the consequences of losing your job weren't just getting your car and house repossessed and having to go on welfare, but rather you and your family could actually starve. Go back another century or two, and the noblemen at the top of the heap could rape and murder peasants with impunity...

Ayn Rand claimed that this extreme inequality was not just an accidental byproduct of collectivist programs, but what they were really after - with themselves on the top, of course.

Posted by: markm | Aug 31, 2007 12:13:14 PM

"noblemen at the top of the heap could rape and murder peasants with impunity...": ah, Russia. Thank God it could never happen now.

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 31, 2007 12:37:35 PM

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