Monday, March 16, 2009

Humans >> Chimpanzees

This Megan McArdle post is more about the hazards of predicting the future and the extent to which our liberties-protecting and -enhancing economy relies on those predictions, but what caught my eye was this part:

In some sense, all of history's progress from lives that were nasty, brutish and short to today's splendiferous buffet of iPhones, nine-month courses of physical therapy, and year-round fresh broccoli can be summed up in three words: gains from trade. We live better than a tribe of chimpanzees roaming through the primordial forest because we specialize and then exchange the fruits of our skills with each other. Trade, as the ecoomists say, increases the size of the economic pie to be divided between us.

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether year-round fresh broccoli really qualifies as a societal advance, but that's neither here nor there. What matters is the importance of trade and, more specifically, *trade based on specialized skills*. You do what you're good at and don't waste time doing what you're not good at. I do what I'm good at and let others do what I'm not good at. Then we all trade what we have produced with those skills. It's really quite communitarian when you think about it (the communitarian-boosting effects of capitalism clearly exceed those of explicitly-communitarian "isms" like socialism and communism, though, again, that's neither here nor there). Keep that in mind the next time someone espouses the spiritual goodness of self-reliance, etc., and other such claptrap.

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