I somehow managed to be listening to a podcast called The Soul of Enterprise, a VoiceAmerica production squarely in the George Gilder camp: Oh you silly person, thinking that the physical stuff around us matters in economic questions is just terribly naive and also Marxist; to be a real modern person you must understand that stuff– “atoms”– is nothing, nothing to be thankful for, nothing to profit from: the real wealth in the world is either a) the human spirit/human creativity/insight/intelligence or b) (which amounts to the same thing) “information,” which is the same thing as what exists in a computer, and is (apparently) made out of bits, here conceived as something like spiritual particles of information/creativity etc.
It’s a terribly hyperventelating worldview, fairly Platonist, kind of interesting. Those Christians who buy into it (they tend to be West Coasters) regularly imply, if they do not argue outright, that capitalism (in this sense) is more spiritual (and therefore good, naturally… because “spiritual”=nonphysical=good) than Marxism, which is “materialist.” Basically they’re AnCap gnostics– think Docetists who subscribe to Wired and read a lot of William Gibson.
You know the drill. Anyway, the specific ep was called How Much does the Economy Weigh, and it was dedicated to “explore[ing] the following insight from Thomas Sowell: ‘After all, the caveman had the same natural resources at their disposal as we have today, and the difference between their standard of living and ours is a difference between the knowledge they could bring to bear on those resources and the knowledge used today.’ We will also discuss the five stages in human economic history, from hunter and gatherers to the Industrial Revolution, and now a knowledge economy; the differences between data, information and knowledge; the physical fallacy and why we continue to cling to this outdated mode of thinking about our economy; and how hard it is to make a toaster from scratch. A framework for leveraging your organization’s intellectual capital will be presented.”
Look, it’s not that none of this has any merit, or that it’s stupid, and obviously the Christians who are into this are not ACTUALLY heretics. And sometimes one needs some of these ideas, in order to counterbalance one’s usual diet of Porchery. But halfway through the podcast, Ron Baker said this to Ed Kless, and the level of irony was so high that I actually had to break my blogging slackerhood to write about it.
WhatsApp has just been sold for 17 billion dollars. WhatsApp was four guys and a contract programmer in Georgia. The country, not the state [snickering.]…That tells you the world has definitely changed, from an atom to a bit-type economy, to an economy in mind.
One of my favorite examples, Ed, is if you just look at Gone With the Wind, right? Here’s a movie, it’s whatever, it’s on tape, it was produced in 1939. Would you rather have the rights to, or own, that movie, or would you rather have… I dunno, think of the most expensive car from 1939? I’d rather have the Gone With the Wind! But even that’s just an idea, that’s just service, it’s not physical, and yet it contains much more wealth.
Oh dear. Mr. O’Hara, you had something to add?