Home > 2011 Posts, About Dave > How the World Works in 500 Words

How the World Works in 500 Words

November 4, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

A month or so ago, I was thinking an idyllic thought. Suppose my wonderful, 13-year-old granddaughter came up and asked, “Papa, how does stuff really work? I mean people and things and countries and history and all?”

Then, surprise of all surprises, moments later, she did come into my office and asked: “Can you take me golfing? I want to drive the cart.”

So much for questions of cosmic significance. But, here’s the answer I would have given if she’d asked.


Progress means that each person is better able to reach as much of their potential as possible, without robbing potential from others.

No security for people means no progress. About 3% of us are natural thugs. Another 10% prefer thuggery when they can get away with it. Thugs thrive by taking stuff from others through intimidation. When thugs work together, it only takes one person in 20 to control the other 19. Thugs must be stopped. Unless there is total anarchy. Then, your thug should be better at it than the others—kind of like picking a lawyer.

Once a set of people are somewhat secure, progress is fastest in a free market. A free market is one where a consumer’s choice is not coerced. By anyone. Big companies don’t like free markets. They like monopolies, but will settle for cartels. Small businesses would love to have a monopoly, but they know that can’t happen, so they mostly support a free market to protect themselves from economic thugs. Monopolies and cartels must be prevented and broken.

Governments are monopolies. Most are already run by thugs. But, even the best are always on the verge of legal thuggery. Governments are also sly, devious, cunning and bear watching at all times. And bureaucracies exist to grow in size and power regardless of their stated purpose. It’s their nature. Citizens must ensure that a government’s only allowed monopoly is protection of its citizens from thuggery, monopolies and cartels.

True poverty is having insufficient air, food, clothing or shelter to enable self-improvement. A hand up for those in poverty and willing to improve themselves is a basic obligation of one citizen to another. For those in poverty and truly unable to function well enough to improve their own lot, charity is a citizen’s obligation to keep them from true poverty. For those unwilling to improve themselves, that’s their choice. As long as they avoid thuggery, so be it. True poverty among those willing to work must be eradicated. Being poor, not so much.

Humans spent 50,000 generations climbing to the top of the food chain. We are the most effective pack predators in four billion years. That’s produced a basic nature with two sides: barbaric and caring. Civilization tends to shift us away from the barbaric.

Even so, almost all ideas that civilization produces do not work. But, now and then, one catches on and moves us all along the road to progress. Many stupid ideas also catch on and pull us back until they’re discarded.

By definition, utopian ideas ignore human nature and will not work in a world filled with real human beings. Yet, perhaps a third of us subscribe to them whole-heartedly. Thugs who claim to believe a utopian idea then rush in to seize the reins. Civilization suffers and night falls. Then, after a few centuries or millennia, we start the long climb again, first toward security, then toward true progress.

Utopians exact a terrible price on humanity to satisfy their delusions. But they are always with us. Keep an eye out.

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