On Progress

Economic progress mandates mass sociopolitical integration and acceptance of a more complex and complicated world.

It is simple to manage a world in which rock and fire are cutting edge technologies. It doesn’t require much outside input, let alone division of labor, and we can keep our circle small and close. We don’t have to put trust in too many people. We almost always know where those people are and what they are up to. Life is simple, but it is difficult.

As technology and the division-of-labor technology mandates take hold, our circle of association necessarily grows. We have to start somewhat trusting people who fall outside of our sphere of significant influence. We have to start outsourcing labor, because we simply do not have what it takes in our own tribe to provide the expertise that all this new technology requires. But as we move to associations outside of our own tribe, those associations, for the most part, tend to benefit us and them, so we don’t have to trust them explicitly, so much as we can simply trust their desire to prosper, as well. The more this trade transpires, the less likely it is that violence will transpire between our tribe and the tribes we trade with.

Technological progress ultimately gets to the point where the entire world must be involved, and we have now passed the point of no return as far as trade relations are concerned. We can still isolate if we so choose, but each attempt at isolation makes the machine of progress slow down, and production and thereby prosperity suffers. Isolation also makes potential trade partners more wary of our motivations, which makes conflict more likely. There is a point where, if we want the world to keep progressing, we have to give up ideas such as protecting our manufacturing, or protecting our market share in this or that industry. Efficiency always leads to better results, and for production to to be as efficient as possible, not just the division of labor is necessary, but production has to move to where it will operate as efficiently as possible — this is known as comparative advantage. To do that we have to commit to a world where American manufacturing in certain industries isn’t as dominant as it may have been in the past, and we have to accept that if certain geopolitical issues arise, we might be more vulnerable than we would be were we to keep that production in-house.

Luckily for us, history is on our side in such matters. We live in the most peaceful and prosperous epoch in human history, and as Steven Pinker argues in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, much of that is due to increased trade between nations. The more integrated our economies are, the more prosperous we all are, and the less likely war becomes. Such a world is incredibly complex and complicated, but it is a far easier life than the simpler alternative.

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