Leonard Read wrote one of the greatest teaching articles ever written: "I, Pencil," on the division of labor.
He once said this: “You will know you have been successful when someone quotes an idea you wrote, and he has no idea where the idea came from.”
"Dispersion counts." The greater the dispersion, the greater the impact and the less space you get in the history books.
The people who are guaranteed to get into the history books are politicians who start major wars and spend lots of other people's money or print it. In earlier eras, the senior general appointed by the senior politician got into the history books, but not since Korea. The division of labor has made generals into interchangeable parts.
Inventors used to get in, but the fate of Philo Farnsworth set the pattern. He invented the television. Then there is Tim Berners-Lee. He invented the World Wide Web. I can think of no one who has influenced more people's lives. Neither of them made any money.
Who invented the computer? Who invented the mouse? Who invented the ball point pen? You can look it up on Wikipedia. But who invented Wikipedia?
The creativity of everyone becomes part of society's capital. The creativity of every participant counts for something.
Economists like to speak of the vast array of tax-funded institutions and projects such as highways as "social overhead capital." They love to focus on the supposed productivity of social overhead capital. Yet they are well aware of boondoggles. Boondoggles are sold to voters as social overhead capital.
What is really significant as social overhead capital is the religious and legal framework of society, which is established by custom. But economists and historians ignore this, because its effects are so widespread and filled with noise. No one invented custom. Rarely can a custom even be dated. The integration of customs was not designed by anyone who gets into the history books.
The great thing about custom is that good developments tend to get imitated, while bad ones get quarantined – mostly by custom.
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