Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Exception to the Post on Scarcity

Two days ago, I posted on the disconnect between the first laws of economics and politics.  To once again borrow from Thomas Sowell:
The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.
In one sense (only one) the key message of all 22 clowns on the debate stage was that there's only one pie, and that if anyone has more pie than you (those evil, rich, bastards!) it's because they stole some of your pie.  All of the messages I've heard were focused on taking pie back from them and spreading it among the people who think they've had their pie stolen. 

In reality, the picture is different.  We aren't stuck with one pie that we divide, we can make many more pies.  The one economically valuable commodity that doesn't seem to be limited by scarcity is human ingenuity.  Because we can write things down and pass them on, ingenuity is cumulative.  The old saying along the lines of, "if I've seen farther it has been from standing on the shoulders of giants" sums it up perfectly.  We are all standing on the shoulders of giants; taking advantage of all human creativity down through history.  In a very real sense, we're living on the accumulated ingenuity from the earliest of history through yesterday.

Is it true that innovations sometimes don't come as quickly as we'd like?  Of course!  On the other hand, if you look at the stunning progress of Western Civilization over the last couple of hundred years, it's hard not be in awe of what ingenuity and innovation have given us.  We went from horse drawn wagons and genuine debates if humans could survive traveling in the early trains at 45 miles per hour, to over 10,000 airplanes in the air at any given moment, carrying thousands of people at several hundred miles per hour.  In the space of just the 20th century, we went from the first spindly aircraft to the moon and probes to the edge of the solar system.  We went from only being able to communicate with someone else in person (or by letter) to nearly instantaneous global communication.

Don't miss for a second that those advances came from individuals working in liberty, not the heavy yoke of government trying to more fairly divide the pie.

Instead of dividing one pie,

we can make more pies

To borrow something I wrote not long ago (and linked above).
It's always the same mistake with these guys.  They take some trends, make a linear extrapolation and predict doom.  They never consider that history isn't linear.  They never seem to grasp that human ingenuity is the most powerful resource on Earth.  Time after time, humanity has faced environmental problems or shortages and figured out ways around them.
The history of the human race is a history of using that ingenuity to improvise, adapt, and overcome.  It's not a smooth continuum but things get better.  In the long term, that's always true.

To quote the British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, “On what principle is it that with nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”


  1. The greedy incompetent left are INCAPABLE of "making more pies".... They have zero skills or intellect. ALL they know is how to covet and lust for the things they cannot build or make. The ONLY talent the left has is convoluted political shenanigans. And that is what they use to acquire what the rest of us work for. There is no cure for the disease of "leftism". It is a fundamental character flaw. And if allowed to exist and flourish leftism will ALWAYS destroy whatever culture or society it takes root in.

  2. Yet another excuse to commend this Michael Crichton speech to everyone:

    "Let's think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit?

    Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses? But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport.

    And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn't know what an atom was.

    They didn't know its structure. They also didn't know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS. None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn't know what you are talking about.


    1. I have that lecture around here in one or two places. Really great reading.

      The observation about horses brought to mind an article I read and posted about nine years ago:

      When Gasoline Saved the World From Pollution

  3. They never consider that history isn't linear.

    And most of that is because history is taught in a linear manner. None of the myriad of "Connections" between different things that make other things appear to happen out of nowhere are taught, or is that concept.

    GIGO results.....

    1. And speaking of great lectures, this was the great part about the James Burke series, "Connections".

    2. Connections was one of the first things I ever taped on our brand-new VHS recorder. Homeschoolers be aware: this is the finest introductory series to show kids who are just learning about science.

      Unfortunately, Burke himself is a flaming socialist who did the show to reinforce the theory that the collective is always more creative than the individual, a concept I violently disagree with (see Srinivasa Ramanujan). I met him once at a lecture at Green River Community College in the Puget Sound, and personally he appeared to be an arrogant jerk. Sad, because his work has great merit.

    3. Still one of my favorite series, as are his other works.

      I rank it right up there with "The Ascent of Man".

      Didn't know that about Burke, Malatrope. I'm sure I would have been greatly disappointed had I ever met him.

      Glad to see you got the reference.....

  4. "human ingenuity is the most powerful resource on Earth."..I remember reading a book about WWII where people living in southern Europe were bewildered at the attitude of U.S. soldiers who when confronted with a impossible task would not just give up but would say 'There's got to be a way' and come up wtth something....Good post SIG.

  5. Wait until orbital rocketry really gets fired up. Those 22 clowns and their tag-a-longs will clamor that too much of the pie is leaving the Earth.

  6. Were I to partake of the first pie, there would be only one thing to say:

    "My God, I'm full of stars...."