A New Model
Regardless of what we might call mega-government and the associated mega-destructions of the 20th century, humanity has not been overcome and will not be. We are conscious, self-referential beings, able to create at will and to correct our course; all healthy humans are capable of these things. Beyond that, humans enjoy the act of creation very deeply. A passage from a business consultant named Gary Hamil illustrates this very well:
As human beings, we are the only organisms that create for the sheer stupid pleasure of doing so. Whether it’s laying out a garden, composing a new tune on the piano, writing a bit of poetry, manipulating a digital photo, redecorating a room, or inventing a new chili recipe – we are happiest when we are creating.
It is also the case that humans (with a small number of exceptions) will not knowingly do horrible things. You can’t just hand someone a knife and encourage them to stab a random passer-by. Almost no one will do that. Humans, in order to do horrible things, have to be tricked into it.
While it’s sadly true that humans are easy to trick, it’s more important that tricking them is necessary, because they can also learn to see through tricks.
Technology, over the years since 1815, has made scarcity obsolete. This is something that people have been slow to grasp, but it’s true all the same.
The discoveries that began in the 17th century have had their effects, and a sufficient number of us have done the necessary work. We already grow more food than we can eat, and could grow much more if we needed to. Building houses for everyone is no problem. Providing everyone with medical care isn’t really a problem; even roads and cars are easy enough to produce. And we have more than enough available resources.
Here’s what a researcher named Julian Simon said about this in 1988, after decades of work on the subject:
We have technology in our hands now, without even inventing anything else, that will allow all the people on this Earth, and many more times the number of people on this Earth, to have the same high life expectancy that we have in the United States, and Europe and Japan, to have the same affluence that we do in the rich countries. To have all the good things in life that we have. All we need is a social and economic organization that will allow this to happen. Not to bring it about, but just to allow it to happen.
There are passages like this one from other researchers and scientists as well. Our ability to produce is no longer in question. The problem – the holdup with getting these things to everyone – is cooperation.
Modern government is a massive system of restriction. Every regulation and law, after all, is a statement of what will not be allowed; of what will be robotically punished. And so the governments of this planet throw up barriers to cooperation. If people wish to buy and sell with each other, they have to overcome multiple legal and regulatory barriers, something many of them are simply unable to do. Piles of regulatory papers are often required before a simple deal can be made. This greatly restricts cooperation.
A truly free market, on the other hand, has no such obstructions: Two parties make a deal, deliver the goods or service and deliver the money; there is nothing else. Free markets, then, are massively more open to cooperation than ever-regulating, ever-restricting governments. More or less all business people are aware of this.
What opposes the market and supports the regulatory state is simply fear. A pure market has no enforcement built in. And so fear-drenched people can be relied upon to oppose them with comments like these:
- Without enough laws, criminals would destroy everything.
- Without regulation, everything would fall apart.
- Yes, regulation is a problem, but along with it comes certain benefits.
- I got ripped off, and someone has to fix it!
And so on, with arguments based in emotion (“For the children”) rather than sober reason.
The structural difference between regulatory regimes and free markets is that markets are decentralized. In simple terms, we can say that a proper market has no boss who forces everyone to do as he says. People can trade as they wish, or not trade if they prefer. No one enforces limits to cooperation.
And not only have we had decentralized trade for thousands of years (though it is mainly forbidden these days), but we also have decentralized money, in the forms of gold, silver, Bitcoin and still others.
Over the long and grim run of the Soviet Union (1922-1991), we learned that centralized systems of production operate very badly, and that the more decentralized an economy, the better it operates.
But again, decentralized commerce is restrained mainly by fear, with reactions like this: “Something horrible will happen if we don’t control everything.” And since imagined fears are infinite, there is no end to the scary arguments that can be made. Likelihood and proportion make little difference to a frightened mind.
Bad things happen continually in centralized and regulated economies, but people never seem to notice that when making their arguments… even when listening to those arguments: they encounter fear and lock up.
The superiority of decentralization has been noted by a long string of forward thinkers. It has been acknowledged by people working in the fields of economics, psychology, education, science, the arts, and in many others. The great barrier to it is rulership: Modern governance simply couldn’t survive decentralization, and so fights against it.
Decentralization has long been the model of the healthy family, the club, the local Little League, the reading circle, and so on. We choose it on the smaller levels, while it has been forbidden to us at the larger levels.
But regardless of the fact that governments are inherently anti-cooperative structures, we, the inventive and productive people of the Earth, have fundamentally overcome scarcity. More than that, we’ve seen that the progress of the human race grows in us and emerges from us.
What stands before us it to take this fact seriously.
And so we see a better world and a better humanity ahead of us: a human species set free of the scarcity that has abused it and the fear of scarcity that has kept it paralyzed, their minds frozen by an endless steam of imagined fears.
Once we pass these barriers, however, we will become better than we’ve imagined we could be. Our next step forward won’t take us to a perfect life – we still have plenty of internal things to work out – but it will bring us to a life that is healthier, better and open to improvement.
In other words, we already have what we need; we need only to step beyond the reign of publicized fears and the “few ruling many” rulership that we’ve suffered under since the Bronze Age.
Some generation will see this and step into a better world. May it be yours.
As always, go slowly and be sure the students understand the lesson as completely as possible.
Please don’t spend time digging into the bad parts of this lesson; we must state them because they are relevant, but it’s an error to spend our energies in outrage and disgust. Decrying the bad for any length of time is counter-productive. Rather, we must build. This passage from Buckminster Fuller makes the point very well:
You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete.
Again I’ve italicized new and significant words. You may want to spend time on these with your students:
Uniform. As in identical, standardized.
Compulsory. As in, “Do it or we will punish you.”
Budgets. As in, “Our department’s anual budget.”
Reflexively. Unreasoned, automatic. Knee-jerk.
The Tolstoy passage is from What Then Must We Do?
The Stephan Zweig passages are from The World of Yesterday.
The Julian Simon passage is from The State of Humanity. When discussing the fact that we have overcome scarcity, it might be useful to use some of the graphs from this book, as well as from The Resourceful Earth.
I’m sorry that I don’t have a reference for the Gary Hamil passage.
The Buckminster Fuller passage is from Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure.