… is from page 96 of Deirdre McCloskey’s and Art Carden’s wonderful new (2020) book, Leave Me Alone and I’ll Make You Rich: How the Bourgeois Deal Enriched the World:
“Resources” don’t matter until new ideas make them valuable.
Indeed, as Deirdre’s and Art’s use of quotation marks suggests, “resources” don’t even exist as resources until they are created by ideas. What does exist is a collection of differently arranged atoms – that is, raw materials. Raw materials have always existed, and in abundance. But raw materials become resources only when human ideas figure out how – when human ingenuity creates the means – to use these materials in ways that further human well-being.
For example, the electromagnetic spectrum existed for the entire duration of human existence. Yet it became a resource only within the past two centuries. And what transformed the electromagnetic spectrum into a resource was human ideas.
The same is true for any other resource you care to name. It’s true for petroleum, for iron ore, for magnesium, for bauxite, and for wood. It’s true for fish in the streams, for beaver on the riverbanks, and for boar in the forests. It’s true (with apologies to my Georgist friends) even for land.