For the last few decades, we have been scolded by everyone from radical environmentalists to simple back-to-nature advocates that we have an overly industrialized society. It must be dismantled. We need to adopt the ways of the past.
I thought about this when reading a commentary by Jeffrey Tucker. He was watching a video by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who was trying to explain why the earth is headed for an ecological disaster and why we probably shouldn’t be having any more children. But he says he was distracted because she was saying all of this while carefully cutting sweet potatoes before putting them in the oven.
She put salt and pepper on them. Tucker reminds us that salt was so rare during most of human history that it was often regarded as money. Then we figured out how to produce and distribute salt to every table in the world.
She was cutting the sweet potatoes with a steel knife. It took generations of metallurgists to figure out how to make steel reliably and affordably. “Before steel, there were bodies of water you could not cross without a boat because no one knew how to make an iron bridge that wouldn’t sink.”
She would put the sweet potatoes in an oven. But Tucker reminds us that “she didn’t have to chop down trees and build a fire, like 99.99 percent of humanity had to until relatively recently.”
And where did she get those sweet potatoes? No one grows them in Washington, DC. Where did the store get them? Until fairly recently, the sweet potato was trapped in distant places. Now they are flown on planes and shipped on ocean liners and brought to the store by trucks. All of those modes of transportation run on fossil fuels.
His point is something I have also noticed. Many Americans (including members of Congress) enjoy the fruits of technology and capitalism but at the same time want to eliminate the technological developments and free market benefits that provided them. It is short sighted at best.