When classical liberalism gained momentum in the late 18th century, it sowed the seeds for the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Progressives continue to descry the period because it represents the growth of big business. Few of them recognize, or are willing to admit, that the poor grew into a middle class, benefiting from the products and services made available by efficiencies of industrialization. Instead they focus on what they term a lack of equality. In response, Lord Acton had this to say:
“The finest opportunity ever given to the world was thrown away because the passion for equality made vain the hope for freedom.”
Despite the obstacle of progressivism, people around the world have risen from poverty. The wars and communist experiments of the middle of the 20th century provide stark contrast to the benefits of voluntary exchange and the division of labor. Despite this, a significant portion of millennials believe that socialism and communism are not just viable but preferable to capitalism. While they espouse this position, they surf the web on their smart phones, laptops, and tablets, connect with their friends using GPS and Uber, as well as enjoy the greatest variety of organic, vegan, and locally grown foods, none of which would have been available in a centrally planned, socialist world where equality dictates needs over desires.
One of the recurring themes in science-fiction is the expectation that extra-terrestrial beings will arrive to wipe out or enslave the human race. Whether it’s artificial intelligence, alien races, or our own fear and stupidity, the human race seems ever destined to be confronted with annihilation in much of the genre. Such conflict is admittedly inherent in most fiction and serves to advance plots. Regardless, the seemingly inevitable struggle with future threats is disheartening at best and betrays a common human theme regarding the struggle for life.
We are born individuals with preferences, fears, desires, and aspirations typically running counter to those of the general populous. As a result, we each see our individual existence, at least to some extent, as a struggle for relevance, purpose, or recognition. This individual struggle is then seen collectively as a struggle for the species. For this we invent existential threats, be they terrestrial or otherwise, against which we muster our spirit to survive.
While much of this belief in struggle is taught, both logic and experience prove that individuals survive best through voluntary cooperation. The division of labor can be shown to benefit all parties even when one party is best at all the tasks required. This being the case, there is no reason to believe that extra-terrestrial visitors would find cooperation more advantageous than conflict. While science-fiction is not likely to adopt a theme of cooperation anytime soon, this is certainly the more likely scenario should we ever be visited from the distant reaches of space.
I’ve often expressed an optimism about the future of mankind, this despite the contemporary and historical pundits insistent on the self-destructiveness of the species. There is no question that humans have frequently dispatched many of their own kind throughout history. However, the efficient extermination of members of the species has nearly always been practiced in the name of a state, a religion, or an ideology. When humans stand in a vulnerable position, as is the case when interacting on an individual level, they tend to refrain from actions which may result in violence toward themselves.
Humans act in order to achieve desirable ends. All actions have a cost, be it time, effort, or otherwise. Presented with the opportunity to act in a way that avoids significant loss, nearly all individuals choose such a means to realize their desired ends.
When violence is employed to achieve an end, it comes with significant cost. Violence between individuals always includes the potential for harm or death by the initiating party. Should the end be realized, the individual initiating violence must henceforth remain protective of the gain; people are less likely to recognize the claim of ownership gained through violence.
Contrast this with voluntary exchange, where each party recognizes an improvement. Rather than the potential for harm or death, such an exchange generally occurs with an understanding of the rights of private property. As a result, after achieving an end, no further concern about property loss is necessary by either party. Voluntary exchanges absent violence will always have a lower cost to all parties involved. The inherent cost of violence makes it far more likely that people will engage in mutually beneficial exchange and peace.