The market economy acts as a sort of spontaneous recombinant system that rapidly evolves possible solutions to problems. New mutations arise en masse so for any lock you may encounter, you soon have the perfect key in hand. With superhuman precision, the market decides on the perfect price for every good, down to the last fraction of a cent. If there’s something people want, the market figures out a way to provide it as a river finds its way to the low ground no matter how many boulders lie in its path.
The market is highly efficient because it harnesses the natural force of desire as mills harness wind and water with no further effort needed from man.
But there is a limit to the scope of the market’s power. It can only work with existing components and cannot deal with excessive uncertainty. Not to mention, that which deals in desires does not always give people what they really need to solve problems beyond basic material want. Unpleasant truths and tough-but-necessary solutions tend not to sell well. Nor can the market provide what desirers can’t imagine.
The religious devotion of modernity to the market obscures the understanding of other recombinant systems designed to solve different sorts of problems. The biggest weakness of desire recombinance is that its function is linear and incremental.
If we are thirsty we want water. Then we want a container to hold the water in…and so on.
The core shortcoming of powering a windmill with desire is that it’s as basic and elemental as tangible things, as common to animals as it is to people, lying near the bottom of the hierarchy of needs.
The natural inquiry then is to ask how our windmill is powered as we move up the hierarchy of needs to its pinnacle of self-actualization that is unique to conscious beings. We end up with something non-linear and exponential, the market of ideas where the main currency is not solid gold but ingots of free time.
Ancient Greek philosophers were not motivated by making money at jobs, nor were they really entrepeneurs. Yet our present day society has no concept of a productive social role outside the market.
Plato had a school. Pythagoras and Epicurus lived with bands of followers. These groups provided for the philosopher’s material needs but they don’t seem to have been rich as we think of it. Conspicuous leisure to develop the intellect without having to worry about money was itself the mark of natural aristocracy.
In fact, the philosophers looked down on thinkers and speakers who plied their craft primarily for profit. These ‘sophists’ were criticized for caring about their clients rather than objective truth. We can easily identify this same problem in our money economy thousands of years later.
This is why throughout history, societies that are poor in learned leisure fail to produce new ideas however wealthy they may be.
For thousands of years, there have been magnificent empires in China, India, and the Middle East yet it was paradoxically the comparatively barbarian fringe of Europe that reached critical mass and exploded with power and creativity like humanity has never seen.
A common pattern with peoples like the Chinese is they had no lack of ingenuity as can be seen with their inventions of gunpowder and the printing press.
However, unless it was immediately useful in business or government the uses remained limited to low-hanging fruit. There simply wasn’t the ripple effect of new, more sophisticated applications that we saw time and again with Europeans.
There was no space in their society for the meandering process of experimentation that has uncertain yields, if any. In business and farming, no one can afford to consider any plan that doesn’t have consistent profits.
Societies that produce enduring ideas have in common a class of literate, educated, leisured people besides government scribes and bureaucrats. So we might anticipate a successful future social structure will have a formal leisure economy. Already, the internet overflows with the information and ideas of millions given to all of us for free. Theories of capital gain have no way to navigate, or even describe this miraculous, seemingly altruistic terrain yet we’re all still stuck scraping for money.