“to build the world we want”

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Welcome to my blog, here I post about philosophy, politics, and I review a book every now and then!

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There is NO free lunch

There is NO free lunch

The world runs on individuals pursuing their self interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn't construct his theory under order from a, from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn't revolutionize the automobile industry that way.

-Milton Friedman

The universe contains in her many rules that humanity has not yet learned to bend. Not the least of these, and what many would call a universal truth, is the law of scarcity. As man has learned more of the universe’s ways (the laws of nature: physics, chemistry, etc…) we’ve arguably gotten better at playing her game. One man can, with machines and harnessed energy, now do what it would have taken 100 men 100 times longer to do. We can see, hear, and do things that people a century or two ago wouldn’t and couldn’t have dreamt of. I think these advances have begun to deceive people though. While we have learned many of mother nature’s rules, there is one that we have perhaps forgotten or neglected: something cannot come from nothing.

A man can pick an apple from a tree and eat it, or kill a beast and cook it, or collect water and drink it. It is also known, albeit often times taken for granted, that if the tree stops producing or the animals cannot be found or the water source dries up, that the man will be forced to go without. Here lies a problem; there is no morality or feeling to the production of fruit, or abundance of animal life and so on. The universe will not spontaneously grow an apple tree for the starving man simply because he is starving, as it has no will to do such.

This being the case, man is forced by the laws of nature to produce or cease to exist. Whether the production comes in the form of creating or finding does not matter as either one or both must be accomplished to survive and thrive. A simpler example of this is in nature outside of the human experience: A wolf must find a deer or rodent to consume or the wolf will starve. The deer must find grass or the deer will starve. The grass must compete with other forms of plant life for sunlight, fertile ground and water or it cannot grow. Each of the these are in and of themselves scarce resources and their survival requires other scarce resources. The wolf, whether by instinct or consciousness, knows it needs meat to sustain itself just as the grass needs sunlight to grow.

Humans, in a like manner, need certain things to survive, but perhaps unlike the wolf, have a greater cognitive capacity to obtain said means of survival. Man, like no other known living creature, can mold nature into whatever complex structures and substances he can think of. With this capacity to create and change, man has learned throughout the centuries how to get what is needed with evermore efficiency. But with this, we have also developed a sort of mental plague, spreading slowly, and it seems to be growing more as technology also expands. An idea that redistribution can cure scarcity. That scarcity can be abolished or made irrelevant. These are thoughts that I can understand at face value, seeing the leaps in what can be created with so little individual effort compared to a few hundred years ago, and considering how much has been accomplished in such a brief time of recorded history.

The notion that a simple redistribution will cure humanity of its ailments is without a doubt attractive, but it is rotten to the core once you get past the shining veneer. If a man has decided to grow apples and has planted an orchard, he’s done so expecting to have a return greater than the work he put into it, otherwise he would never have bothered in the first place. Now if another man, say, someone who agreed to help plant for a predetermined compensation, decided the owner of the orchard had plenty and would take what he wanted from the orchard, then the owner’s initial reasoning for planting the orchard has been skewed or perhaps even erased, as some portion of what he expected as compensation for his labors or goods wasn’t received. This logic, when applied elsewhere else would make any would-be producer or innovator second guess their decision to invest in or create a superior product because whatever excess they hoped to find in their exertion will ultimately be void, making their work, all for nothing.

Despite the arithmetic reasoning behind this idea, the notion of free goods from those who have more has spread far and wide.  The welfare state is the ultimate example of this redistribution fallacy brought to fruition. The desperate attempts of certain oligarchs to lull the masses away with promises of riches from their neighbors has been by and large a success over the last 250 or so years; convincing the laymen that the way to prosperity lies not in multiplying your wealth through productive trade of goods and services, but in taking it from someone else. Where and how the wealth was initially produced is swept quietly under the rug.

Take for example the CEO of some large retail/grocery store, something like Walmart.  The store didn’t simply sprout up from the ground, but was built, brick by brick, with capital and goods already saved or borrowed with promise of return. Now, once built and manned, there’s no guarantee of profit; they must provide something wanted by a customer. Something worth more to the customer than whatever they already have. This process of trading value for value is then repeated as long as both the customer and the retailer have something they are willing to exchange for.

However, if you disregard the basic rules of peaceful trade, and merely promise the wealth or services of some business or people without the need to provide value in return, it seems understandably enticing. Enticing, but ultimately unsustainable. Rather than trade’s multiplying effect on wealth, you get the destruction brought on by pure consumption; one can only consume for so long before they have nothing.

This “nothing” is not a metaphorical warning in some fairy tale though, it is all too real, and has been nearly reached by many nations before. Consider the initial surge of energy in the Soviet Union from the mass consumption of accumulated goods and seized property and life. Following the surge though, came the hangover from the reckless consumption without compensation: starvation, genocide, material shortages, and more. These maladies can also be observed in modern Venezuela, China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Ethiopia, among others.

So, to refer back to the laws of nature talked about earlier, there are physical needs of man and beast, and these needs do not spontaneously come into existence simply because they are needed or wanted. Something cannot come from nothing, and something is only created by man in a hope to benefit one’s self (physically or emotionally). To trade peacefully with one another is the only sustainable way to advance humanity.

For more information on the topics discussed here:

Existential

Existential