The world is better because industrialism made it better.
The world is worse because industrialism made it worse.
When a factory makes something that people want, they buy it.
When a competitor improves it, it gains in market share.
When a third competitor becomes more efficient and lowers the price, even more is sold.
And so we have safe, clean, cheap food that can sustain us.
We have antibiotics that can save a life.
We have transportation systems that just a hundred years ago would have seemed like a fantasy.
The life expectancy of the world has increased from 26 years in 1820 to 67 years in 2010. if it was 1820, you would not be reading this blog. I would not have been alive to write it.
The growth of industrialism is tied to the fast-moving cycle of the market, fulfilling needs and wants and making a profit.
That same system, though, is insulated from the damage it causes.
When a factory makes a product but pollutes the river that flows by it, the factory doesn’t pay for the pollution unless required to.
When the owners of the factory earn 50 times more than the lowest level employee, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
When a marketer seduces people with short-term shiny objects that cause long-term health problems, the marketer doesn’t pay for it, the customer does.
And when the weapons manufacturer produces ever more lethal weapons, it is the person who stepped on the land mine who pays the price, not the person who made it or purchased it.
The opportunity is simple to describe but requires real effort to achieve: the community must enforce systems that build the external costs into the way that the industrialist does business.
Faced with an incentive to decrease by catch, waste or illness, the industrialist will do what industrialists always seek to do–make it work a little better, a little faster, a little more profitably.
Industrialism cannot solve every problem, but it can go a very long way in solving the problems that it created in the first place.
When facing a long-term, chronic challenge, we can look for a ratchet, a long-term positive cycle that helps us overcome that challenge.
Externalities are not external, and we should not treat them that way.
Industrialists should be forced to solved the very same problems they created.