In his excellent new book Life After Capitalism (review coming soon), George Gilder routinely states an essential truth: knowledge is wealth. The inputs to everything we have and enjoy in modern times have always been with us, but we’ve only been able to transform them into staggering luxuries thanks to knowledge. As Gilder points out, when we buy gasoline for our cars we’re purchasing knowledge. Figure that the fuel has been around for billions of years, perpetually unused.
It’s something to think about with the exciting news about advances in the battle against paralysis. The Washington Post’s Daniel Gilbert reported yesterday that scientists and neurosurgeons “have implanted electronic devices into the brain and spinal cord of a paralyzed man that communicate wirelessly, enhancing his ability to walk and enabling him to climb stairs.” Stop and think about that.
It’s hopefully a powerfully positive signal of what’s ahead. As knowledge grows, so will the ability of doctors and scientists to bring mobility back to those who’ve lost it. The path to turning paralysis into yesterday’s problem will be paved with endless mistakes that compound knowledge, on the way to actual fixes. Pneumonia and tuberculosis were mankind’s cruelest killers in the 19th century, yet they’re largely afterthoughts today. Knowledge slayed what used to end life so quickly, and it’s not unrealistic to suggest that particularly in the age of AI, knowledge compounded will render paralysis yesterday’s scare.
Bringing it back to Gilder, he makes the crucial point that in order for knowledge to be knowledge, “it must be a surprise.” Of essential importance is that “the failed endeavors are not necessarily misguided” if they create knowledge. About all this, Gilder stresses that effort taken to prove a known is wasted. What’s known is known. Progress is yet again born of learning what we formerly did not know.
It brings to mind the thinking of Cato Institute co-founder Ed Crane back in the 1980s when AIDS had so much of the world terrified. There was endless ranting against the Reagan Administration for not spending enough in search of a cure. Crane wasn’t one of the whiners. He stressed the importance of keeping government out of the search for a cure given his view that government is conservative in the non-ideological sense about where it directs funds. Precisely because AIDS had so many so scared, Crane was clear that the proper approach was keeping funds in private hands where they would be more likely to be matched with the “outside,” frequently wacky minds; minds that per Gilder would be more likely to find surprise.
Gilder and Crane’s insights rates more thought as brilliant minds bring us closer to a cure for paralysis. Just as the fuel that mechanized our work and rapidly shrunk the world via automobile and air transportation was hidden in plain sight for billions of years, it’s not unrealistic to suggest that the answers to full recovery from paralysis and all sorts of other maladies stare us in the face today. What we lack today with regard to paralysis is much the same as what people who traveled by horse and buggy once lacked: knowledge.
All of which speaks to the importance of aggressively shrinking government spending at all levels. We shouldn’t do this because it “hurts,” or more laughably because a “crisis” of the debt variety awaits us unless we spend less, we should massively decrease government spending because it suffocates the creation of knowledge necessary to give mobility to those who lack it.