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This chapter is from the book

What Happens When We Try to Stop Change? Here's Your (1952) Buick!

Imagine if you could stop the forces of innovation by preserving every industry that we have today; every region might remain unchanged, and every person might never have to face the stress of moving, retraining, or scrapping previous expectations for life with new plans requiring the pursuit of a different field or even moving a household far away from the familiar. Now think of a place that has tried to isolate its Econosphere from the rest of the world, like North Korea or Cuba. Want to trade your car for a bicycle, or a 1952 Buick?

When you try to cut off all or part of your Econosphere from the real, global Econosphere, it's a little like trying to keep a rainstorm from sweeping across your state. Not only will you still get wet, but you're likely to catch a cold, too. Trying to drop out of the Econosphere slows productivity, and living standards start to go down. We would no longer see advances in technology, medicines, or the phenomenally efficient services, like UPS and cell phones that we take for granted. You could afford fewer things than you otherwise could, and you would invest less than you otherwise would. You would create less than you otherwise create, understand less than you otherwise understand, and you would become less than you otherwise are.

Over the last few centuries, we have learned a lesson about our relationship with the biosphere. We have seen that attempting to impose mankind's will over nature often creates unintended negative consequences that make us all worse off, rather than better off. For instance, we have seen that the thoughtless damming of rivers can endanger fish and other wildlife, compromise the fertility of our land, or increase the risks that can come from extreme weather. We have learned that it is better to work in harmony with nature rather than to inflict our will wantonly upon it. We know that to ignore the contours of our physical world leads to flood, famine, disease, and illness.

Slowly but surely, the "green" movement has made us aware of our individual impact on the biosphere and put pressure on public and corporate policy to better align and harmonize with its protection. Whereas most people would not want the ascendancy of humans to somehow be impinged upon, we have become more intelligent about managing the impact on the biosphere because we see that it is in our best interest to respect what sustains us and that we cannot or should not control. We have even come to understand that our environment can provide some goods and services better than we can, whether that is natural topography shaped by centuries of forces or wild ecosystems that provide us with, say, food in the case of our oceans and rivers, or with a balance of plant and wildlife that maintain balance and livable space, so we correctly leave it up to nature.

You need to come to the same understanding when it comes to the Econosphere. The Econosphere is best left to encourage people to produce those goods that they have an advantage producing, as that production leads to maximum happiness. For those who have less comparative advantage in a particular area, the Econosphere encourages them to find other outputs for their talent. Although that might be harsh in the short term, and it often is, you cannot forget that you have two basic roles in the Econosphere: You create—and you consume—the work of others. Let's take a look at how these two sides of your life in the Econosphere interact.

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