We tend to take a lot for granted. For the last several days I have been working with site plans for our Roca Milagro development in Panama. I have been developing spreadsheets in which the area of each building lot, in square meters, is multiplied by an elaborate indexed weighting system based on features such as trees, cul de sac location, view, water proximity, etc., and as the founding partners of the project make their lot choices every calculation is changed and the lots available to new investors and purchasers diminish automatically with each choice. The site plan itself is produced by some sort of AutoCad program and I have a special viewer to look at it. I use photo manipulation software to colour-code the various building lots as they change status. I email results back and forth among my partners. None of this was possible not all that many years ago. The saving in time and effort is incalculable.
We take all this for granted. What do we do with the time we save? We read each others' blogs, read the news, watch silly videos on YouTube, write email to our friends and relatives, chat on our choice of MSN, Yahoo, ICQ and others, track our investment portfolios, trade stocks and play games.
Why are we able to enjoy these marvelous inventions and the time they save us? Because some people dream and do something about their dreams. They work hard, often for little or no money at first, with the hope that some day they will make a profit on their inventions. Some will go bankrupt in the process or lose spouses because of the enormous stress and the staggering workload. Some will make it big. Even really, really big. And then the real fun will start. The bigger the target, the more jackals and hyenas will gather for an attack. Lawyers will line up around the block, jockeying for class-action suits for some error or omission. People will complain that the corporation, which by then will pay millions or tens or millions of dollars in taxes, isn't paying its fair share. And so it goes.
I love these inventions. They save me lots of time. I love the fact that I can buy cars and appliances and electronic gadgets, with more and more features, at very reasonable prices. I don't give a damn how much money the corporations or their officers and managers make. I think the salaries paid to some CEO's are ridiculous, but that is a matter for the shareholders to consider, not me as a consumer. If I think a company is poorly run, I can always buy from its competition. There are usually lots of choices that we can all make in the marketplace. Unless, of course, there are only one or two companies providing the good or service, and that is usually impossible without someone getting in bed with politicians and bureaucrats. What a repugnant thought that is!
There are a lot of people my age who still have a lot of energy, ideas, and focus left, but who are pulling back. Their ideas may never see the light of day. Why is this? Because, at some point, it just ain't worth it. The bigger you get, the bigger a target you present for every malcontent who would rather steal your money than work for his own. Who needs that? The final insult is the taxes that are extracted, almost always highly disproportionate to whatever so-called services are received in return. All the blather about paying a fair share is exactly that. It has no merit. The millionaire who lives down the street is paying much more than his fair share. The billionaire is paying many, many times his fair share. And why are they millionaires and billionaires in the first place? Because they provide us with things we need, at prices we can afford. Don't believe me? OK, let's each run out and build a car or a computer or an MP3 player from scratch, at prices comparable to what we pay in the marketplace. From scratch means mine the ore, make the steel, produce the plastic, cast or mold the components, assemble everything, and have it work properly. Doubt that you could do that? I sure couldn't. I am content to buy my car from whoever offers me the best deal, my computer from whoever offers me the fastest processor, my MP3 player from whoever manages to produce the best sound. I don't want to build anything by myself, thank you very much.
One of my companies produced a DOS software package back in the early 1990's that was designed to track and manage investments for individuals and companies. It was called, by one of our clients, "the best portfolio management software available anywhere, at any price." There is no Windows version. Why not? It's not worth the trouble. Whatever money I could make from the endeavour wouldn't nearly compensate me for the added aggravation and for the fact that I wouldn't get to keep all or most of the profits. No thanks.
I'm just a small fry in the overall scheme of things. I don't have huge corporations, thousands of employees, or wield a lot of influence. But, there are more people, some with real money, real influence, who feel as I do. Maybe our reluctance to 'play' under the existing rules won't make a bit of difference to the way the world unfolds. That's fine. No-one will care or notice as people drop out and turn off. But what if someone who might have come up with the next great invention drops out, the invention that can wean us all off oil, save the environment, cure AIDS, or provide potable water wherever it is needed around the world? What if he goes away to catch up with his reading, probably with Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' at the top of the pile. We would likely never know, but we would be immeasurably poorer for it.
Are things going to improve in the near future? Nope. Over the coming years, things are going to get worse. I just hope that the minds that will be able to help us when we need them the most will still be available to us. But I wouldn't count on it.
There's my dollop of optimism for the day.