From Phoenecia to Hayek to the 'Cloud' (QUOTABLE)

September 25, 2011
By Peter Samuel

"(T)he cloud is not a new thing at all. It has been the source of human invention all along. Human advancement depends not on individual intelligence but on... idea sharing, and it has done so for tens of thousands of years. Human progress waxes and wanes according to how much people connect and exchange.

"When the Mediterranean was socially networked by the trading ships of Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs or Venetians, culture and prosperity advanced. When the network collapsed because of pirates at the end of the second millennium BC or in the Dark Ages, or in the 16th century under the Barbary and Ottoman corsairs, culture and prosperity stagnated. When Ming China, or Shogun Japan, or Nehru's India, or Albania or North Korea turned inward and cut themselves off from the world, the consequence was... decline.

"Central planning cannot work because it is trying to substitute an individual all-knowing intelligence for (the market's) distributed and fragmented system of localized but connected knowledge.

"(N)obody on the planet knows how to make a pencil. The knowledge is dispersed among many thousands of graphite miners, lumberjacks, assembly line workers, ferrule designers, salesmen and so on. This is true of everything... Nobody knows how to make it or to run it. Only the cloud knows.

"(T)he reason we won... against the Neanderthals is: We exchanged (but they didn't).

"We Africans have been doing this since at least 120,000 years ago. That's the date of beads made from marine shells found a hundred miles inland in Algeria. Trade is 10 times as old as agriculture.

"At first it was a peculiarity of us Africans. It gave us the edge over Neanderthals in their own continent and their own climate, because good ideas can spread through trade. New weapons, new foods, new crafts, new ornaments, new tools. Suddenly you are no longer relying on the inventiveness of your own tribe or the capacity of your own territory. You are drawing upon ideas that occurred to anybody anywhere anytime within your trading network.

"In the same way, today, American consumers do not have to rely only on their own citizens to discover new consumer goods or new medicines or new music: The Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians are also able to supply them.

"That is what trade does. It creates a collective innovating brain as big as the trade network itself.

"When you cut people off from exchange networks, their innovation rate collapses.

"Anthropologist Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia argues that in a small island population, good ideas died faster than they could be replaced. Tierra del Fuego's natives, on a similarly inhospitable and small land, but connected by trading canoes across the much narrower Magellan strait, suffered no such technological regress. They had access to a collective brain the size of South America.

"Which is of course why the Internet is such an exciting development. For the first time humanity has not just some big collective brains, but one truly vast one in which almost everybody can share and in which distance is no obstacle.

"The political implications are obvious: that human collaboration is necessary for society to work; that the individual is not--and has not been for 120,000 years--able to support his lifestyle; that trade enables us to work for each other not just for ourselves; that there is nothing so antisocial or impoverishing as the pursuit of self-sufficiency; and that authoritarian, top-down rule is not the source of order or progress."

- Matt Ridley the author of "The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves" also this year's winner of  Hayek Prize lecturing at Manhattan Institute Sept 26.  WALL STREET JOURNAL 2011-09-24

TOLLROADSnews 2011-09-25


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