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Essay from September 2010
"Creating Wealth"
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[We can date this essay from the first line - it must have been written in the affluent 90's. How prescient, or simply practical, Harry was in his assessment of the underpinnings of that affluence. Given today's economy, we can read Harry's last line a little differently than he may have intended. ZG]

Someone has convinced Lina that the economy is good. I got nowhere asking aloud about what the economy was based on. What is the source of the wealth in this economy?

Downsizing does not create wealth -- it transfers wealth from the many to the few.

Gambling does not create wealth -- it transfers wealth from the unwise to the unscrupulous.

Real estate transfers do not create wealth -- they measure how increased population causes inflation.

What does this economy produce? Fishing is finished; timber is finished; oil is finished; steel is finished; autos are struggling and moving abroad and would be nowhere without the Pentagon budget.

Prisons are one of the most profitable growth industries, but they do not create wealth. Schools are finished. Textiles are finished. What is the basis of this economy? Lina didn't know, but said she was going to enjoy it while she could.

I intend to enjoy my own life, but I am not expecting this economy to do much for me. It is a house of cards, consisting of the wobbly stock market, the greedy "health-care" industry, the murderous war industry, the cynical prison industry, an exhausted environment, nature on the rampage as a matter of simple fact, the decaying infra-structure, and a rising tide of ignorance and stupidity in the general population.

I am accused at times of emphasizing the negative, but I suspect I'm simply noticing the negative in away that others don't want to do. I'm ready for someone to show me the positive.

Creating wealth is a tricky topic to ponder. Adam Smith and Karl Marx and Henry George pondered it, and no one has ever refuted their analyses. But they didn't quite exhaust the topic.

A writer may be on the cutting edge of the process of wealth-creation. He takes a 50-cent pen and a dollar notebook and makes marks in the book with the pen, and creates a "property." The theater-industry calls a script that, literally. A poem, or a story, or a novel, or a non-fiction piece is seldom called "a property," but they could be.

It's a process even more remarkable than taking a piece of animal hide and making a pair of shoes out of it, or taking several trees and making a house out of that. The writer starts with very little raw material, not counting his brain and thoughts and memory and imagination and ingenuity and persistence. He can produce "a property" of considerable value, even in this society which undervalues drastically the results of mental effort.

When farming isn't mining, which it often is in this country -- mining soil, or water, or both -- it is the oldest technique of creating wealth. Instead of eating the seeds, the farmer plants them, and they multiply, sometimes thirty, sometimes sixty and sometimes a hundred-fold. Or someone plants a nut tree and given time and care, it gives wealth to the caregiver.

Cutting down live trees for timber is not really creating wealth but transferring it from the living environment to the cash accounts of a few individuals. When Congress gives away the national forest to giant timber companies, who have paid for the election of the congresspersons, the wealth is being transferred from all of us [a live forest] to the corporation [timber for sale at almost-all profit, since they don't have to pay anything for the trees]. This process is not wealth-creation; it is impoverishment of the society and of the species as a whole.

Has the computer created wealth, really? It isn't clear. Sometimes it's a tool of a writer [see above], as she creates "properties." A very small proportion of all the computers in existence are used for that purpose.

The computer has replaced the bookkeeper, so the income that bookkeepers used to get is now going to computer makers and users. The computer has almost replaced the studio artist; it's the same kind of transfer of funds.

The computer as spy and invader of privacy is not creating wealth, any more than a burglar is. It is diverting wealth into areas where it might not otherwise go.

Huge corporations have become very wealthy making computers and software. Businesses and individuals have put money into computers, enriching further those wealthy giant corporations. Yet it is hard to credit the computer with the creation of that wealth. What would corporations and businesses and individuals have done with all that money that was transferred to the computer people, if the computer didn't exist? Something, surely.

The computer did not create the wealth.

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Copyright © 2010 Harry Willson

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