Ideas Having Sex

The following post was written by Jon Murphy, over at his blog “A Force 4 Good.”

The Spontaneous Revolution, by Jon Murphy

I think I’ve made it perfectly clear my love of the sharing economy and the gig economy.  These new styles of doing things represents a massive revolution in our global economy (I dare say on par with the Industrial Revolution).  With a simple smartphone app, people are able to transform their possessions into revenue-earning capital and circumvent the established ways of “doing things.”  Just as the Industrial Revolution ended slave and child labor and broke down the monopolies of large landowners, merchants, and GSEs, so is the sharing economy destroying established monopolies like the taxi cartels, hotel chains, and government regulatory boards.  ‘Tis a glorious thing.

What this process also demonstrates is the powerful idea Matt Ridley articulated:“ideas having sex.”  Essentially, different ideas come together and form new cultural memes or inventions.  Computer + telephone = Internet.  Engine + cart = car.  And now, Internet + phone = smartphones (this is fleshed out much better than I can do in the TED talk linked above and in his excellent 2010 book The Rational Optimist.  If you’ve not read it, you’re missing out!).

The most amazing thing about this process is these outcomes are just about impossible to know ahead of time.  30 years ago, when cellphones first came out, no one could have predicted they’d become small supercomputers in our pockets, nearly ubiquitous in the First World (and soon the whole world).  10 years ago, when the iPhone first came out, who would have thought the vast development of apps that would occur?  Everything from crowdsourced GPS letting you avoid speed traps to talking cats.  This massive development in human advancement, this revolution, was not driven by central planners in Washington or Brussels or Beijing (in fact, considering the efforts they’re devoting to stop this advancement, I’d say they’re pretty upset about it).  It was developed spontaneously by individuals who thought they had a better way of doing things and combined resources in ways never thought before to create something new and exciting.

I don’t know what the world will look like in 10 years.  But, like Ridley, I am rationally optimistic about the future of mankind.  As long as human beings remain relatively free, free to invent, free to profit, and free to share ideas, then these ideas will continue to mate and produce offspring that will further enhance our well-being in ways be could not possibly anticipate.

[This post originally appeared at A Force 4 Good]


Jon Murphy Talks About Life’s Everyday Miracles

Jon Murphy, over at Force 4 Good, has given me permission to reprint this concise and beautiful post. I often fall into the trap of taking everyday things like a simple cup of coffee for granted, and it takes something like this article to make me realize just how much I have to be thankful for, thanks to free markets and the resulting spontaneous order which is absent in the command and control jungle of central planners. The remaining words are all Jon’s. 

Human Miracles

Last night, I was reading the delightfully spooky/silly book Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffery Cranor.  On pages 62-63 were these lines:

Josie produced a glass of water, through practiced manipulation of cupboards and valves and municipal plumbing.  Neither she nor Jackie was impressed with the human miracle represented by how easily the glass of water was produced.

Leonard Reed could have written these words, as their sentiment is shared in his famous essay I, Pencil.  Every day we are faced with these human miracles that allow us to live better lives.  My coffee was grown in South America, roasted and ground in Seattle, shipped to Hooksett, and consumed in Concord, all without me having to know any part of the process.  Every day, we bring water to desert cities like Phoenix or Las Vegas, bring tropical fruits to cold climates like Boston or London.  Medical supplies are directed to where they need to be.  People are satisfied the world ’round.

The greatest miracle of all is that there is no one directing this process.  To paraphrase Adam Smith’s famous metaphor, it is as if some invisible hand were guiding it.

When we think “miracle,” the big, grandiose ones tend to come to mind: Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Moses parting the Red Sea, etc.  But we would be remiss to ignore the human miracles around us that have transformed our world to the closest thing to Eden we’ve had since we were kicked out.

[This article first appeared at Force 4 Good]