Norberg on History's Greatest Achievement

by Don Boudreaux on October 2, 2006

in Complexity & Emergence, Standard of Living, The Hollow Middle

Johan Norberg is one of my very favorite scholars.  (If you haven’t yet read his book In Defense of Global Capitalism, you’re missing an outstanding intellectual achievement.  Read it!  Carefully.  Twice.)

The editorial page of today’s Wall Street Journal features another worthy contribution by Johan — an essay entitled "Humanity’s Greatest Achievement."  Here are some key passages:

We tend to take our opportunities for granted, but our
ancestors could not have imagined what we now have. In the last 100
years, we have created more wealth than in the 100,000 years before
that, and not because we work more. To the contrary: In the last
century, work hours have been halved in the Western world. It is
because new ideas have made it possible for us to work smarter and find
easier ways to satisfy our needs and demands.

The people we should thank are the innovators and
entrepreneurs, the individuals who see new opportunities and risk
exploring them — the people who find new markets, create new products,
think out new ways to handle commodities commercially, organize work in
new ways, design new technology or transfer capital to more productive
uses. The entrepreneur is an explorer, who ventures into uncharted
territory and opens up the new routes along which we will all be
traveling soon enough. Simply to look around is to understand that
entrepreneurs have filled our lives with everyday miracles.

Entrepreneurs are serial problem-solvers who search
out inefficiencies and find more practical ways of connecting possible
supply with potential demand. In that way, they constantly
revolutionize our economy, and have made it possible for average people
today to live longer and healthier lives, with more access to
technology than the kings had in previous generations.

Had this radical improvement of our lives been
accomplished by political leaders and central planning, it would have
been celebrated as humanity’s greatest achievement. But that is not how
entrepreneurs are perceived, to say the least. For a hint of how the
popular culture thinks of the innovators, take a look at any Hollywood
film. Chances are that the villain is either a mad scientist or a
greedy businessman. That is slightly ironic, since we would have
neither film technology without scientists nor a film industry without
businessmen. This is to say nothing of our political culture.

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{ 2 comments }

Kevin October 2, 2006 at 3:06 pm

*** The people we should thank are the innovators and entrepreneurs ***

We already DO thank them. We give them money. And that's what counts.

Adam October 2, 2006 at 10:28 pm

Sure Kevin, except that our refusal to acknowledge how wealth gets created leads us to support policies that undermine its creation and make us all poorer. Don't feel sorry for the entrepreneurs, feel sorry for us.

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