Bringing you lower quality and fewer choices since the 16th Century, reads the caption to the image of capitalism. The grim image of the evils of capitalism is captured in William Blake’s evocative phrase “the dark satanic mills.” Is it true that because capitalism rests on selfishness and greed that we don’t have a heaven on earth?
In human society in all ages the number of angels devoid of any greed and selfishness is astonishingly low. Most people are self-interested at least, if not outright selfish; and most people want more of the good stuff for themselves and their loved ones, if not outright greedy. That’s the truth about the human condition. That’s what we have to work with, and bemoaning that fact, or worse ignoring that fact, is not going to help at all. Continue reading →
James Burke tells a story about a time when he and his team were lost in some place in Ireland. This was before Google maps and mobile phones. They asked a local for directions to some place who replied in all seriousness, “To get there, I wouldn’t start from here.”
The humor in that statement arises from the fact that to get anywhere at all you have to start from where you are, and not some ideal place that you are not at. You have to make do with what you have, and not what you should ideally have to get the job done but in fact you don’t. Continue reading →
“A man who chooses between drinking a glass of milk and a glass of a solution of potassium cyanide does not choose between two beverages; he chooses between life and death. A society that chooses between capitalism and socialism does not choose between two social systems; it chooses between social cooperation and the disintegration of society. Socialism is not an alternative to capitalism; it is an alternative to any system under which men can live as human beings. To stress this point is the task of economics as it is the task of biology and chemistry to teach that potassium cyanide is not a nutriment but a deadly poison.”
Source:Human Action. Ludwig von Mises. Yale University Press. 1949, 1998, 2010
We take it as a given, almost a fact of nature like the seasons or the geography of continents, that different parts of the world enjoy different levels of prosperity. But there’s nothing “natural” about this since this is almost entirely within human control. The differences are stark, and at one end of the scale, heartbreaking. Consider the extremely rich first. Luxembourg has an annual per capita income of over $110,000, Norway over $100,000, Switzerland around $85,000. Those are small countries and outliers with perhaps little to tell us. But the US is large and has an annual per capita income of $53,000. Why is it so rich?
At the other end of the scale are Burundi and Malawi with only $200 or so annual per capita incomes. Why are they so poor? The richest countries are around 500 times richer in per capita terms than the poorest. What accounts for this inequality in incomes of countries? That question has engaged the attention of people for hundreds of years — starting with of course the great Scottish economist Adam Smith who inquired about “The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” in his famous 1776 book. Continue reading →
Ken Olson, co-founder of Digital Equipment Corp, said in 1977, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Even very smart people sometimes make statements which, in retrospect, are proven to be ridiculously mistaken. Technology is hard to predict, partly because innovation which drives its evolution is by definition unpredictable. Those foolhardy enough to make predictions about technology get generally ridiculed years later when everyone knows what no one knew before. Hindsight is awesomely accurate while foresight often misses the barn, leave alone the target painted on it. Continue reading →