Wednesday, 15 June 2016

You Voted For Them To Be Rich, Silly!

It was Matt Ridley in his excellent book The Evolution of Everything who talked of the Internet as being a living example of the phenomenon of evolutionary emergence - a thing of complexity and order spontaneously created in a decentralised fashion without a designer. What he means is, nobody sat down one day and planned the Internet as a fait accompli phenomenon - it is a global system of interconnected computer networks that evolved over time, and is still evolving, in a cumulative step by step process of trial and error that tailors to our tastes and needs. 

The emergence of the Internet - like cities, cars, houses, clothes, supermarkets, science and medicine - was driven by consumer demand, be it for global communication, widespread knowledge, online shopping, social networking and the countless other benefits it brings to human beings all across the world. It provides a microcosmic example of markets in general - where the complex emergence of order occurs not from being designed top down, but by a long natural selection-type process of good and useful ideas surviving, and bad ones being weeded out.

Given the foregoing, I find the irony of people on Facebook bemoaning the mega-rich's wealth quite amusing. Because it ought to be remembered that making people rich is rather like how an electorate votes people into power in government - in a way that slightly resembles a democracy. Most of the mega rich - Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, etc - get rich by people voting with their wallets.

The same is true of film stars, musicians, authors and painters - it is democratic in the sense that when a lot of people buy what they have on offer, be it computer products, films, or whatever, they are voting to make those pioneers and innovators richer than the average person. They are doing so because they recognise that value is being provided in the shape of consumer surplus and producer surplus.

Mark Zuckerberg is the most obvious case here as we discuss this matter on Facebook. Zuckerberg is one of the mega-rich people - richer than most people in the UK and USA, yet the benefits of Facebook and the enjoyment and connectivity it brings to hundreds of millions of us is very evident. That one meets so many people on Facebook who are blind to this irony is, as I say, amusing to say the least.