Buy Stuff and Save the World

Via Ryan King, we have a link to David Brin and how global capitalism is a force for world peace. To which I say:

Yay captalism! Yay globalism! Yay for the bourgeious elite! Without the rich (for whom sellers compete by lowering prices and increasing quality), goods and services cannot become cheap enough for everyone else; only the wealthy (in a relative sense) can subsidize that development. And with the increase in availability of goods and services and common expectations, what follows is “peace through shared culture.”

Incidentally, the best way to help the survivors of natural disasters such as the Christmas Tsunami in the long run is to buy their goods and services, not provide simple aid. In the short term, aid is necessary, but it always dries up. Profitable business is self-supporting.


Here’s a quote from the Brin essay:

We are told that the world is a devastatingly sad and oppressive place, filled with poverty and hopelessness. And, indeed, the raw numbers of people who suffer malnourishment and/or oppression, can only tear at the heart. Ideally, this awareness will spread and make us feel determined to do better.

But the irony is that only people who are relatively satiated can indulge in empathy and feel the pain of others, for whom satiation is but a dream.

In fact, the percentage of human beings who live in some degree of comfort and safety, with secure hope that their increasingly educated children will do better, has been rising spectacularly for two generations. And the principal driver of this change has been the U.S. consumer, purchasing the output of tens of thousands of foreign factories, wherein the same pattern gets repeated from one country to the next.

By historical (or even current third-world) standards, even the poorest of Americans is screamingly wealthy. This is what I mean by “relative” wealth earlier in this post; that you have a roof over your head, comfortable and protective clothing, indoor plumbing with hot and cold running water, easy access to food, and so on — this places you in the top one percent of all humanity that has ever lived, up with the emperors of Rome, as far as luxury living is concerned. The natural state of Man is naked, cold, hungry, destitute, living in caves, being hunted by tigers and other men — anything better than that is a good thing.


Brin is responding to Buffett. Cafe Hayek responds as well:

Buffett no doubt believes that dollars held by foreigners represent debt owed by Americans to foreigners. Only in the most irrelevant and formal sense is this belief valid. Each U.S. dollar is a Federal Reserve Note, issued by a U.S. government institution (the Fed) and formally redeemable by that U.S. institution. But redeemable for what? Answer: another Federal Reserve Note of the same value.

In fact, dollars held by foreigners are not debt in any economically relevant sense.

“But can’t foreigners spend these dollars on U.S. goods, services, or assets?!” I hear someone (Buffet, perhaps) asking. Of course dollars can be spent in this way; that’s the only reason foreigners accept dollars in exchange for the things they sell. But this fact doesn’t make dollars debt.