Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some Totally Uninformed Remarks About the Economy

I know pretty much nothing about economics aside from what this guy on a train told me last week, so, to say the least, there are some questions I'd like answered.

1. Given that we're the richest nation in the world yet don't seem to produce all that much, where does our national wealth come from? I'm pretty sure part of the answer is the ready availability of natural resources during the 18th-20th centuries (lumber, coal, oil, etc.); and part of it is circumstance, like WWII taking place in Europe so we could lend them money to rebuild and profit from their success. But both of those are long gone now, so I'm stuck with the question: what the hell do any of us produce that covers the cost of our lives?

2. No matter what angle I take, I keep running into the same conclusion in my thesis: the patent system was designed during a time when machines were built out of bricks and mortar and metal rods, so it's only natural that it hits insurmountable difficulties trying to regulate a world where a "process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter" can be information or a living thing. By the same token, it doesn't seem like today's stock market – or even today's "economy" as a whole – bears any resemblance to the stock market as it could have been conceived or designed to function. Nor does it seem like a coincidence that the two big boom/busts of the last hundred years (assuming that this crash gets real bad) coincided with technological advances that encouraged investors and financial planners to think of money in terms of pieces of paper (in the case of ticker tape machines) or numbers on a screen (in the case of computers and the internet).

PS: NASA funding = $16.8 billion in 2007. Just sayin. We could do this bailout thing or we could colonize mars, straight up. Or better yet, keep up with Japan's plans to build a functional space elevator.


  1. let's not forget slavery. it's amazing how much wealth you can build on an infrastructure of 200 years of free labor

  2. Slavery is a good addition. I'd also add say our protectionist trade policies that helped us develop and foster our own industries. You know, those policies that we try to force developing countries not to pursue...

  3. That's true about slavery. And maybe that's the answer more generally: the people in charge of our economy were consistently willing to take advantage of work done by other people to a massive extent.

    But the accounting of it all still escapes me. Where does all the money come from?