For sixty known centuries, the planet that we call Earth has been inhabited by civilised human beings not much different from ourselves. Their desire to live has been just as strong as ours has. They have had at least as much physical strength as the average person of today. Moreover, among them have been men and women of great intelligence. Nevertheless, down through the ages, most human beings have gone hungry, and many have always starved.
The ancient Assyrians, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Mayas, and Incas were intelligent people; but in spite of their intelligence and their fertile lands, they were never able to get enough to eat. They often killed their babies because they could not feed them.
The Roman Empire collapsed in famine. The French were dying of hunger in the early nineteenth century. As late as 1846, the Irish were starving to death; and no one was particularly surprised because famines in the Old World were the rule rather than the exception. It is only within the last century that a relatively small number of people in Western Europe, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Japan have had enough food to keep them alive — soup and bread in France, fish in Scandinavia, beef in England.
Hunger has always been normal. Even to this day, famines kill multitudes in China, India, and Africa; and in the 1930’s, thousands upon thousands starved to death on the richest farmlands of the then Soviet Union.
Down through the ages, countless millions, struggling unsuccessfully to keep bare live in wretched bodies, have died young in misery and squalor. Then suddenly, in a few isolated spots on this planet, people eat so abundantly that the pangs of hunger are forgotten.
Why did human beings die of starvation for 6000 years or more? Why is it that people in the United States of America, since its inception as an independent Western country, have never had a countrywide famine like Russia, India, or China?
Why did human beings walk and carry goods (and other human beings) on their straining backs for more than 6000 years — then suddenly, on only a small percentage of the earth’s surface, the forces of nature are harnessed to do the bidding of the humblest citizen?
Why did families live for more than 6000 years in caves and floorless hovels, without windows or chimneys — then within a few generations, people in a relatively few countries take floors, rugs, chairs, tables, windows, and chimneys for granted and regard electric lights, refrigerators, running water, porcelain baths, plastic products, and toilets as common necessities? They, in actual fact, consider it their indisputable human right to have these luxuries, to use, as when and where they please!
Why did men, women, and children eke out their meagre existence for over 6000 years toiling desperately from dawn-to-dark? Barefoot, half-naked, unwashed, unshaved, uncombed, with lousy hair, mangy skins, and rotting teeth. Then suddenly, in these very few places on earth their is an abundance of such things as rayon underwear, nylon hose, showers, baths, safety razors, milkshakes, cosmetics, education, and the very best health services on call?
It is incredible, if we would but pause to reflect! Swiftly, in less than a hundred years, a small very group of people in total human terms have conquered the darkness of night — from pinecones and candles to kerosene lamps, to gas jets; then to electric bulbs, neon lights, and fluorescent tubes.
These people have created wholly new and astounding defences against the vagaries of weather — from fireplaces to stoves, furnaces, automatic burners, insulation, and air conditioning.
These people are conquering pain and disease, prolonging life, and resisting death itself — with anaesthetics, surgery, sanitation, hygiene, and dietetics.
Stupendous attacks have been made on space by them — from ox-wagons, rafts, and canoes to railroads, steamboats, trams, subways, automobiles, trucks, busses, aeroplanes — and attacks on time through telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and the Internet.
This relatively small group of people have moved from backbreaking drudgery into the modern age of power, substituting steam, electricity, petrol, and nuclear power for the brawn of man. The nuclear physicist is taking over and finding ways to subduing to human uses the infinitesimally tiny atom — tapping a new source of power so vast that it bids fair to dwarf anything that has gone before.
It is true that many of these developments originated in different civilisations. Nevertheless, new ideas are of little value in raising standards of living unless and until something is done about them. The plain fact is that we in the modern Westernised world have outdistanced the world in extending the benefits of inventions and discoveries to the vast majority of people in all walks-of-life.
Three generations — grandfather to grandson — have created these wonders that surpass the utmost imaginings of all previous time. How did it come about? How can it be explained? Just what has been responsible for this unprecedented burst of progress, which has so quickly transformed a hostile wilderness into the most affluent civilisation, the world has ever known?
Perhaps the best way to find the answer is first to rule out some of the factors that were not responsible.
To say that it is because of some countries’ natural resources is hardly convincing. The same rich resources were present when our ancient ancestors held forth. Our civilisation has had no monopoly on iron, coal, copper, aluminium, zinc, lead, gold, or other natural materials. Such things may have always been available to human beings.
China, India, Russia, Africa — all has great natural resources. Crude oil oozed from the earth in Baku, in the present Azerbaijan, 4000 years ago; and when Julius Caesar marched west into Gaul, Europe was a rich and virgin wilderness inhabited by a few roving savages, much as America, Africa and the rest of the New World was when Western discoverers first reached it.
Really, when you come right down to it, nothing is a “natural resource” until after someone has made it useful to human beings. Coal was neither a natural resource to Julius Caesar, nor crude oil to Alexander the Great, nor aluminium to Tsaka Zulu, nor the atom to anyone until 1945. Men may discover uses for any substance. Nobody can know today what may be a natural resource tomorrow. It is not the natural resources, but the use humankind makes of them that really count.
Is it because these people work harder? Again the answer is “NO” because in most countries and areas in the world the people work much harder, on average, than people in the Westernised world are doing.
Can it be that these are people of inherent superiority? That sounds fine in after-dinner oratory and goes over well in certain political circles, but the argument is difficult to support. These very people’s ancestors have starved right along with everyone else.
Can it be that these people have more energy than other peoples of the world do? That is not the answer either, but it is getting pretty close. They are not endowed with any superior energy — mental or physical — but it is a fact that they have made more effective and efficient use of their human energies than any other people on the face of the globe — anywhere or at any time.
That is the answer — the real answer — the only answer. It is a very simple answer, perhaps too simple to be readily accepted. We can make better, more effective and efficient, use of our human energies only by better management of our resources, human, financial, physical, and information.
In other words, just why human energy works more effective and efficient in some very isolated areas of the world than anywhere else. Answering this question leads us into a whole string of questions, such as:
What is the nature of human energy?
How does it differ from other forms of energy?
What makes it work?
What are the factors that keep it from working?
How can it be made to work better? More efficiently? More effectively?
The answers, even the partial answers, to these questions should be extremely helpful in contributing to future progress.
In the last analysis, poverty, famine, and the devastation of war are all traceable to a lack of understanding of human energy and to a failure to use it to the best advantage.
History affords abundant evidence in support of that statement; but the evidence is somewhat obscured because most of the textbooks stress war and conflict, rather than the causes of war and what might be done to prevent war.
First, let us consider the general subject of energy — human versus non-human. This entire planet is made up of energy. The atoms of air surrounding it are energy, remember E = mc2. The sun pours energy upon this air and upon this earth. Life depends on energy; in fact, life is energy.
Every living thing must struggle for its existence, and human beings are certainly no exception. The thin defences of Western civilisation tend to obscure the stark realities; but men and women survive on this earth only because their energies constantly convert other forms of energy to satisfy human needs, and constantly attack non-human energies that are dangerous to human existence.
Some people are keenly aware of this: doctors and nurses, farmers, sailors, construction engineers, weather forecasters, telephone line workers, aeroplane pilots, railroad men, factory workers, miners, and mostly of all managers and entrepreneurs — all the fighters who protect human life and keep the modern world existing. Such people stand the brunt of the struggle and enable the rest of us to forget.
However, it is important that we do not forget. When we do forget, there is the temptation to indulge in wishful thinking — to build imaginative Utopias based on things, as we might like them to be, instead of facing the real human situation and reckoning with things as they are. In the last analysis, their can be no progress except through the more effective and efficient use of our individual energies, personal initiatives, and imaginative abilities — applied to the things and forces of nature. We can call this entrepreneurship.
Remember: In the End, people can never consume more than they produce. We are not in heaven yet!
However, let us get away from broad generalities for a moment and take a closer look at human energy at work.
Say that you are reading a book. Let us say you want to turn a page. You are the dynamo that generates the energy to turn the page. Your brain-energy makes the decision and controls the movement of the muscle-pulleys and bone levers of your arm, your hand, and your fingers; and you turn the page.
The energy that you used to turn the page is the same kind of energy that created this book. Down through centuries of time, and across space, from the first maker of paper, of ink, of type, every act of the innumerable minds and hands that created this book and delivered it to you. Miners digging coal in the USA, iron in China, woodsmen sinking their chainsaws into trees in the Amazon, chemists in laboratories in Europe, workers in factories and foundries in Japan, mechanics, printers, binders, all over the world.
All this was an operation of human energy generated and controlled by the person who performed the act. This human energy and all other resources — for effective and efficient application to satisfy human needs — must be assembled by entrepreneurs, and directed by managers.
Moreover, this is really short-changing the story. To make it complete, we would have to go back to the thousands of people who invented the tools — not just the paper making machinery and the printing presses and binding equipment, but the tools that were used to make all these things, plus the tools that were used to make the tools, and the human ingenuity and drive.
Because of modern equipment and facilities, your copy of the book was produced and delivered to you at a cost of less than an hour of human time, whereas a few hundred years ago, as in many places on earth today still, it would have taken months.
It all comes back to the effective and efficient use of human energy. Moreover, human energy, like any other energy, operates according to certain natural laws. For one thing, it works only under its own natural control. Your decision to turn the page released the energy to turn it. Your will controlled the use of that energy. Nothing else can control it.
It is true , of course, that many of your actions are prompted by suggestions and requests or orders and commands from others; but that does not change the fact that the decision to act and the action itself are always under your control.
Let us take an extreme case. A robber breaks into your house and threatens you at the point of a gun. Discretion being the better part of valour, you give in and tell him where your valuables are hidden. Nevertheless, you make the decision, and you do the telling.
If, instead of a robber, it were a kidnapper after your child, it would be a different story. However, in either case, your thoughts and acts are under your control. Thousands of men and women have suffered torture and even death without speaking a word that their persecutors tried to make them speak.
Your freedom of action may be forbidden, restricted, or prevented by force. The robber, kidnapper, or jailer may bind your hands and feet and put a gag in your mouth. The fact remains that no amount of force can make you act unless you agree — perhaps with hesitation and regret — to do so. I know this all sounds like hair-splitting and academic, but it leads to a very important point — in fact, to two important points:
- Individual freedom is the natural heritage of each living person.
- Freedom cannot be separated from responsibility.
Your natural freedom — your control over your own life energy — was born in you along with life itself. It is a part of live itself. No one can give it to you, nor can you give it to someone else. Nor can you hold any other person responsible for your acts. Control simply cannot be separated from responsibility; control is responsibility.
A steam engine will not run on petrol, nor will a petrol engine run on steam.
To use any kind of energy effectively and efficiently, it is first necessary to understand the nature of the energy and then to set up conditions that will permit it to work to its best advantage.
To make the most effective and efficient use of steam energy, it is necessary to reckon with the nature of steam. To make the most effective and efficient use of human energy, it is necessary to reckon with the nature of man. Moreover, there is no escaping the fact that human energy operates very differently from any other energy.
Steam energy always acts in exactly the same way, so long as the conditions are the same — ditto petrol energy and electrical energy.
Insects and bigger animals follow certain patterns of action. Honeybees, for example, all make the same hexagonal cells of wax. Beavers all build the same form of dam and the same kinds of birds make the same kinds of nests. Generation after generation, they continue to follow their changeless routines — always doing the same things in the same ways.
However, a human being is different because he is a human being; and as a human being, he has the power of reason, the power of imagination, the ability to capitalise on the experiences of the past and the present as bearing on the problems of the future. Humans have the ability to change themselves as well as their environment. We have the ability to progress and to keep on progressing. Humans are the only organisms on Earth that can create fire and then use it.
Plants occupy space and compete with each other for it. Animals defend their possession of places and things. However, humans have enormous powers, of unknown extend, to make new things and to change old things into new forms. He not only owns property, but he also actually creates property.
In the last analysis, a thing is not property unless it is owned; and without ownership, there is little incentive to improve it.
Trough foresight, imagination, and individual initiative (entrepreneurship), man develops tools and facilities that expand his efforts and enable him to produce things that would not be otherwise possible. This is an outstanding difference between man and animal, just as it is an outstanding difference between civilisation and barbarism.
Progress toward better living would never have been possible except through the development of tools to extend the uses human energy — tools that harness the forces of nature as a substitute for muscular effort.
The American Economic Foundation puts it in terms of the mathematical equation MMP = NR + (HE x T), which is just a shorthand way of saying that “man’s material progress (‘i.e. wealth’) depends on natural resources plus human energy multiplied by tools.” That is a neat way to express it, and the formula is worth remembering. Nevertheless, no amount of mathematics can ever tell the real story.
Let us go back thousands of years and look in on one of our Stone Age ancestors. Here, squatting in front of his cave is a man with a new idea. He is one of the real pioneer inventors. He is on the verge of inventing the first tool — or almost the first tool. Clubs have long been used for fighting, and sharp, jagged stones have probably been used for cutting and hacking. However, our Neolithic genius is going to combine the two ideas by fastening a sharp stone onto the end of a handle, thus increasing the momentum and the force of impact. He is going to create a new tool — a crude sort of axe.
All he has to work with are the general idea and the raw materials — plus the energy and the will power to do a job. Without any tools, it is going to take about a week of steady work — except that he will not be able to work on it steadily. He will have to take time out to hunt for his food and do other chores.
Perhaps he could have persuaded someone else to do that for him, but it is rather doubtful because, mind you, this was back in the Stone Age; and it seems reasonable to assume that the general practice of exchanging products (goods and services) came after the invention of artefacts.
Of course, if he had been sick and unable to forage for his own food, the others might have understood and helped him; but for a strong, healthy man to waste his time fooling around with sticks and stones was downright lunacy. He should have been out looking for birds’ eggs, or catching luscious grasshoppers, or indulging in a spree down near the riverbank where the ground was covered with slightly fermented marulas.
Therefore, instead of anyone bringing him food, it is more likely that his family and friends just laughed at him. Aided and abetted by the witch doctors, they may have gone so far as to sabotage his early efforts.
The same sort of thing had probably happened to his forerunners. Maybe that is why the making of an axe had been so long delayed. Surely, the same idea must have occurred to many others before him.
Nevertheless, right now, we are talking about the fellow who has the tenacity to buck the tide of public opinion and get the job done. Of course, after the axe is finished, things will take a different turn. He will be able to demonstrate its advantages; and from then on, he can swap the loan of his axe for food, furs, and feathers. Maybe he will be able to put in his whole time making more and better axes — and there is much room for improvement.
The first crude axe was nothing to brag about; but it was an important forward-looking step, and it typifies the kind of thinking that sets man completely apart from animals.
It takes very little imagination to see how the invention of this crude hand tool led to the development of other tools and to the creation of various other things — rafts, houses, the wheel, etc. However, the main point is that the introduction of tools marked the beginning of man’s progress in three important directions:
- More effective and efficient use of energy.
- Specialisation of effort.
- Advances in human co-operation and improvements in living conditions, through the peaceful exchange of goods and services.
In addition, the introduction of tools brought into sharper focus the importance of individual property rights. Unless a person has a chance of gaining some direct benefit from his extra efforts, there is not much inducement for him to think ahead and to make the sacrifices necessary to provide the tools of production. In addition, without the tools of production, human beings would sink back into a state of barbarism.
We have moved a long way from the Stone Age, and today almost everyone depends for his welfare — for his very life — upon exchanges of ownership.
The modern world is an intricate network of living human energies linking all persons in co-operative effort and in one common fate. The Turks have bread because the Americans smoke cigarettes. New Yorkers eat pineapple ripened in Hawaii because the Burmese mine tin. We drink coffee at breakfast because Brazilians need our iron ore, machinery, and wheat. Japanese babies grow strong, healthy when South African women buy silk lingerie, and South Africans in general buy Japanese motorcars.
This is the kind of world in which men and women naturally want to live; it is the kind of world they begin to create when they are free to use their individual energies. The kind of world they want when they are free to co-operate voluntarily.
Thus, the society of humans is not an ideal of selflessness which human beings are too sinful to achieve. It is stern reality. All persons are bound together in the one imperative desire to survive. Do onto others as you would have them do unto you is not only a sound moral precept, it is also the hardheaded advice of practical self-interest. Whoever injures another injures himself, because he decreases the opportunities for gain that comes through co-operation and exchange.
Nevertheless, how can we reconcile the principle of co-operation with the conflicts of competition? The answer is that there is no inconsistency between the two. Competition is the practical manifestation of human beings in free control of their individual affairs arriving at a balance in their relationships with one another. Free competition is, within itself, a co-operative process.
Competitive bargaining, for example, is essential to equitable transactions. The buyer wants a lower price; the seller wants a higher price. This may give rise to conflict and argument. Nevertheless, the temporary period of debate that may precede the exchange of goods and services is in no sense contradictory to the co-operative relationships underlying the whole idea of exchange. Nor are conflicts and rivalries of opposing viewpoints confined to the market place. They are found in the home, the church, the club, the schoolroom, the playground — everywhere.
Since the uses of human energy are innumerable — and since there is wide variation in tastes and desires — individual persons, left to their own volition, rarely choose to do the same things in the same way at the same time. All friends, lovers, playmates, family groups, business associates have experienced the dilemma in varying degrees: Shall we stay at home or go to the movies? Shall we listen: to the symphony or to the soap opera? Shall we plant alfalfa or peanuts? Shall we buy or build this or that?
Life is a continuous series of conflicts and compromises; and, generally speaking, the co-operative actions growing out of such conflicts and compromises are sounder than if each one of us was able to carry out his own ideas, in his own way and without regard for anyone else.
Nevertheless, from the viewpoint of the individual, it sometimes appears that the efforts of others are unnecessary obstacles to his own direct action in achieving his own personal desires. Thus, it occurs to him that maybe there should be some centralised control or overriding authority to govern all human energies as a unit. This concept has a strong appeal because lurking beneath it is the alluring assumption that the right kind of authority would direct the affairs of all humankind in harmony with the individual’s own personal views — thus relieving him of the trouble and responsibility of making his own ideas work.
Just by way of illustration, let us suppose I have an idea; and while we are at it, let us make it something big. Let us assume that I have a plan or a program that would, in my opinion, improve the lot of all humankind especially that portion of humankind that is in the same position as I. I am completely sold on the virtues of my idea. However, there are those who disagree. I become tired of trying to persuade them. There ought to be an easier and a quicker way. I am feeling a bit frustrated; and in bolstering my ego, I forget that others are entitled to have different views. I conclude that coercion is the only way, and I find comfort in the reassuring excuse, the end justifies the means.
But so much for the background. Now let us eavesdrop while I lull my conscience and build up my own case in my own mind, to wit:
No one can doubt my sincerity, and I am wholly unselfish in my motives — or at least almost wholly unselfish.
I do not stand to make any money out of it — at least not much — and anyway, the total benefits to others will far outweigh the benefits to me. Naturally, I will get some honour and glory; but after all, it is my idea...
Those of my friends who are in the same position as I am understand all this, and they agree with me — or at least most of them do. Nevertheless, what about these others — the ones who seem determined to block my efforts. It is true that my program would cost them a little money at the start; but in the end, everybody would be better off, including them...
The trouble is that they are non-progressive and downright selfish; but they are not honest enough to come out and admit it. They contend that my plan has certain shortcomings. Well, what of it? Sure, there may be a few things that need to be resolved, but why not get started and worry about the details later on? The advantages would more than offset any minor defects, and there has been too much delay already…
This is the Atomic Age, and the human race must no longer be deprived of the benefits that I am ready to bring it. Those who do not see the light must be made to see the light. I am not going to compromise my principles by giving in to a group of self-seeking reactionaries. They have to be forced into line, and that calls for government assistance. (There ought to be a law). If we had the right kind of people in government, they would have stepped in and supported my cause long ago. That is what governments are for…
What we need is a stronger government, run by individuals who would ignore the kind of folks who are blocking my program. There has been too much compromising, too much dilly-dallying. It is about time we had a new form of government — a more progressive government, run on truly democratic principles but with enough power to get things under control and really do a job. Maybe we ought to have a ‘strong man at the helm’ — not a despot, mind you, but a truly beneficent dictator — one who would have the real interests of the real people at heart; one smart enough to run things the way I know they ought to be run…
And maybe, just to be on the safe side, it ought to be me!
That concludes the example. I agree that it is extreme — or, to say the least, it is rather bluntly presented. Few people would consciously try to force the entire world into line with their own pet ideas. Nevertheless, almost every individual, at one time or another, gets the feeling that there should be some kind of centralised authority that would control human energies as a unit and ‘run things the way they ought to be run’.
There is nothing new in the idea. Since the beginning of recorded history on down through the present time, it has captured the imaginations of people everywhere, in all walks of life. Of course, different individuals have different views as to just how things ought to be run, but the idea persists that there should be a unified control; and each proponent, in his own imagination and with the best of intentions, fondly visualises the kind of control that would favour his own personal ideas.
Among the learned philosophers, the age-old problem has been to determine just who or what is in control, or should be in control, of living persons. From Plato to Spengler the problem has been to identify the authority and then to turn over to it all the troubles of the human race.
At one time or another, every conceivable form of authority has been tried, but each has failed for the simple reasons that:
- Only an individual human being can generate human energy.
- Only an individual human being can control the energy he generates.
The lack of understanding of these simple, basic truths has for over 6000 years, stagnated human progress and kept the vast majority of people underfed, poorly clothed, embroiled in wars, and dying from famine and pestilence.
The way to create this environment where human energy can be utilised to its best potential in a sustainable way on the long term is by nurturing the free market system, and entrepreneurship.
To create a successful economy people need to be free and responsible. These are two sides of the same coin. The one cannot exist without the other.
We thus need people who are on the one side economically and socially free, but on the other side take full responsibility for their acts. They must be capable and willing to take calculated risks, but must also be fully prepared to live with the consequences of their decisions and acts.