Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on January 31, 2016

in Complexity & Emergence, Everyday Life, Podcast, Seen and Unseen, Standard of Living, The Profit Motive, Trade

… is from pages 65-66 of César Hidalgo’s fascinating 2015 book, Why Information Grows:

In my talks I often ask the attendees to raise their hands if they have used toothpaste that morning.  I find this to be a good way to get audience participation, since the embarrassment of not having used toothpaste encourages even the shyest attendee to raise her hand.  After almost everyone has raised a hand and I crack a joke about those who didn’t, I ask audience members to keep their hands up only if they know how to synthesize sodium fluoride.  As you can imagine, all hands go down.  This shows that products give us access not only to embodied information but also to the practical uses of the knowledge that is required to make them.  That is, products give us access to the practical uses of the knowledge and knowhow residing in the nervous systems of other people….

[W]e can note that when we are buying toothpaste we are not simply buying paste in a tube.  Instead we are buying access to the practical uses of the creativity of the person who invented toothpaste, the scientific knowledge informing the chemical synthesis that is required to make toothpaste, the knowhow required to synthesize sodium fluoride, put it inside a tube, and make it available across the planet, and the knowledge that fluoride makes our teeth stronger and has beneficial effects on our health.  Something as simple as toothpaste gives us indirect access to the practical uses of the imagination, knowledge, and knowhow that exist, or existed, in the nervous systems of people we have probably never met.

This past October, Russ did an EconTalk podcast with Hidalgo.


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