Just to be clear, I am not talking about the accumulation of wealth. That is a fascinating but entirely different structure.. What I wish to speak about here is the growth of the collective wealth of the human species.
The first question is whether or not we are really growing richer. We seem to have fished out the sea in large part, and we have beaten up the land quite a bit. Since there are lots more of us, we are certainly poorer in the amount of space available per person. That makes real estate more expensive, but apparently not quite as dear as we all thoughtr two years ago.
Simple math clearlysays that we are growing poorer in the finite world, but that may no longer mean that we are really growing poorer. We have learned how to extend the finite that are nothing short of amazing, and we have created our own world of the infinite.
We, the people of the planet, have developed an incredible capability to make all kinds of things. A Bhuddist would say that we carry the burden of our things. We make so many things that we don’t even have space to throw them all away!
It’s not like all of these various things are all junk or destined to become junk. Automobiles and planes extend our freedom and access to the world in ways that our fairly recent ancestors couldn’t even imagine. Computers give us all access to music, science, art, and raw information that would be very hard to imagine years ago (as the science fiction of the early nineteen hundreds clearly shows). All of these machines give us a common wealth: time.
Time is all we have. When the world grows richer in its ability to extend our lives, we grow richer in the absolute sense of having more time. When the world grows richer in its ability to provide for our needs and desires, we grow richer because we get a braoder choice of the way we spend that time.
If you have a life where you get to do what you want most of the time, you are leading the life of the wealthy. If you have a life where you always do what someone else wants, you are leading the life of the slave. For me and for many others, the critical measurement of wealth in my life is how much of it I get to spend doing what I want to do compared to how much time I have to spend doing stuff I have to do.
Remember that not long ago, the ways to use free time were a lot more limited. Today, an unlimited world of knowledge and entertainment is availble to anyone who lives over a coffee shop. This will change the world — the simple combination of time and access to information.