Thursday, September 01, 2011

This is from a piece celebrating the life of George Ballas, inventor of the weed-whacker:
The emergence in 18th-century western Europe of generally favorable attitudes towards business activity – attitudes revealed chiefly in the way people spoke about such activity and about the men and women who carried it on – unleashed as never before humankind’s innovative genius.

The resulting torrent of innovation is arguably the greatest human achievement since the invention of agriculture.

For the first time in history, in those parts of the globe marked by capitalism parents came legitimately to expect never to suffer the death of a child; men for the first time came to expect never to suffer the death of a beloved wife giving birth to a child; starvation was conquered, as were commonly lethal ailments such as small pox, pneumonia, and dysentery; slavery was abolished; ordinary men and women escaped from flimsy and leaky huts made of mud or logs for sturdy homes with solid floors, roofs, and walls; education became universally available, as did opportunities to earn a living doing something other than eking out survival on subsistence farms.

Today, most of even the poorest Americans are vaccinated against polio, have several changes of clean clothing, own automobiles, communicate in real time with family and friends hundreds of miles away, and, generally, enjoy a standard of living that was undreamed of just a few generations ago by all but the mightiest monarchs and wealthiest nobles.

This astounding prosperity is the result of capitalist innovation so abundant and unrelenting that individual innovators go unnoticed in the crowd of capitalist innovators – a fact that throws into relief the reason why we should also regret the anonymity of people such as George Ballas.
It's important for us in the west to remember how good we have it and how we got that way.


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