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Saturday, November 03, 2012

Broken Windows, Shattered Windows, Dressed in Holiday Style

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing. -- As You Like It


(Hat tip Patrick Sullivan.)

1 comment:

  1. Here's an interesting thought experiment. Per Murphyists, there is no way that the process of disaster-plus-recovery can lead to a net positive gain in wealth relative to a counterfactual world in which the disaster never happened.

    So, let's say there were never any calamity that visited the world. Nobody's window ever broke; nobody's power ever went out in a storm; fire never devastated a city nor bombing a nation's industrial plant. How much richer would the world be, right now?

    Would it be richer? Would all of the technological innovations we enjoy have still happened, and maybe more besides? Would we have developed all of our tricks for using resources? All of the elaboration of social arrangements? Is destruction only ever "creative" when it takes place via the cash nexus? Is it even possible to imagine an arc of human progress that is not bound up with response to catastrophes large and small?

    I suspect that disaster is overrated as a driver of human progress - the Apollo program wasn't a response to a genuine cataclysm, just a political one e.g. And sometimes disasters seem merely destructive. (Minos, anyone?) But has every broken window or earthquake represented only a net loss in the long term - even medium term - wealth of the world?

    I realize this is unanswerable. But I think it's actually so difficult to conceive the counterfactual that we have to wonder if "adversity" is even exogenous enough to human striving to consider separately from it.

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