On Saving Humanity in One Fell Swoop

I consider myself a trusting person.

However, with time and experience, I have learned to always be extremely suspicious of those claiming to have an easy, one-size-fits-all solution to a problem plaguing humanity. Let’s walk through an example.

“All of the nutrition needed by humans can easily be made into a powder. It’s cheap to produce. We could end world hunger!”

This is the cry of the technocrat. “Submit yourself to reason,” he commands from his ivory tower, wielding his elite tower guards. “It is for your own good.”

There are a number of problems with “solving” world hunger in this fashion.

How does this nutritive powder taste? If it is unpalatable, who will voluntarily pay for it? If no one will pay for it, how will this solution be funded? If by taxation, is this not a sick irony–paying for something undesirable by stealing money and redistributing it to a company that cannot make a profit on its own merits?

How will it be distributed? For this approach to solve hunger globally, it must be applied globally. This means the heavy hand of the state is involved. How many factories should be constructed, and of what sizes? What locations should they occupy? Governments fail spectacularly at answering these types of questions. Soviet breadlines, anyone?

How will it be produced? This is follows from the previous question. Depending on the raw materials needed, how do we ensure a consistent supply of these inputs? Does the sudden shortage of one factor of production mean that humanity as a whole is suddenly cast into the merciless void of starvation?

The list could continue on like this for a long time indeed. The technocrat will no doubt have very scientific explanations for how to solve each of these in turn. This leads us to the most fundamental flaw with the entire approach: humans are not homogeneous. You and I are not factors in an equation, equally serviceable in the machinations of grand and terrible governmental enterprises. We are men and women with widely varying tastes, cultures, and ideas.

Money is the great unifying force by which these many preferences can co-exist. A one-size-fits-all solution is not needed. We may all specialize in what we are good at, and receive money in return. Money can be traded for that which we desire. In this example, it allows us to shop for calamari, bean sprouts, canned cranberry sauce, potatoes, ice cream, and and endless list of other things. We buy only what we desire to buy.

Viewed in this light, grocery stores are the unappreciated miracle in every city. The preferences of millions are satisfied, and all that the market asks is that you do something to help your fellow humans in return. Earn money–both you and your employer are better off for the trade. Spend money–both you and the store are better off for the trade.