Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 15, 2018

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Creative destruction, Growth, History, Innovation, Seen and Unseen, Standard of Living, Technology

… is from pages 146 of the late Wesleyan University economic historian Stanley Lebergott’s great 1984 volume, The Americans: An Economic Record:

The U.S. record suggests that indeed “progress was the great staple of the country.”  Traditions, class lines, embedded history – all these dominated technology in the United States far less than they did in those nations from which the immigrants came.  Few Americans asked the status or heritage of anyone who proposed a new procedure, a new product.  They asked, rather: will it work?  That pragmatic attitude led to a persistent development of better items – from an apple corer to save work for the housewife, to a compound engine that drove steamships faster.

DBx: Economic growth is inseparable from the creative destruction of older and less-efficient ways of producing valuable goods and services by the discovery and application of newer, more-efficient (that is, less wasteful) ways of producing valuable goods and services.  And it is good to remember that finding and using new and less costly sources of supply is itself a variety of creative destruction.  The brilliant entrepreneur whose idea for improving shipping trims five percent off of the price of imported automobiles sold in America is no less or more applause-worthy than is the engineer whose brilliant idea for improving a machine trims five percent off the cost of producing automobiles in Michigan.  It’s also good to remember that consumers of those automobiles benefit no less or more from the former innovation than they benefit from the latter innovation, and that some jobs are destroyed in the domestic economy no less by the latter innovation than by the former.
A page before the above quotation in Lebergott’s book, we read this: “Steamships were speedier, giving cholera and yellow fever less time to spread than did the longer sailing voyages.  As a result deaths on steamships (from Europe in 1867-72) averaged only one-tenth the rate on sailing vessels.”  Market-tested innovation not only makes our lives easier and more filled with material goods, it also frequently improves our health and save our lives in ways that are too-little noticed.


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