Comparative Advantage in Fiction



From the third volume of John C. Wright’s fascinating, but difficult, sci-fi series, The Golden Age:

Dimoedes said, “Aren’t men right to fear machines which can perform all tasks men can do, artistic, intellectual, technical, a thousand or a million times better than they can do? Men become redundant.”

Phaethon shook his head, a look of distant distaste on his features, as if he were once again confronted with a falsehood that would not die no matter how often it was denounced. In a voice of painstaking patience, he said: “Efficiency does not harm the inefficient. Quite the opposite. That is simply not the way it works. Take me, for example. Look around: I employed partials [sort of lesser clones] to do the thought-box junction spotting when I built this ship. My employees were not as skilled as I was in junction spotting. It took them three hours to do the robopsychology checks and hierarchy links I could have done in one hour. But they were in no danger of competition from me. My time is too valuable. IN that same hour it would have taken me to spot their thought-box junction, I can earn far more than their three-hour wages by writing supervision architecture thought flows. And it’s the same with me and the Sophotechs [super-intelligent computers].

“Any midlevel Sophotech could have written in one second the architecture it takes me, even with my implants, and hour to compose. But if, in that same one second of time, that Sophotech can produce something more valuable—exploring the depth of abstract mathematics, or inventing a new scientific miracle, anything at all (provided that it will earn more in that second than I earn in an hour)—then the competition is not making me redundant. The Sophotech still needs me and receives the benefit of my labor. Since I am going to get the benefit of every new invention and new miracle put out on the market, I want to free up as many of those seconds of Sophotech time as my humble labor can do.

“And I get the lion’s share of the benefit from the swap. I only save him a second of time; he creates wonder upon wonder for me. No matter what my fear or distaste for Sophotechs, the forces in the marketplace, our need for each other, draw us together.”

If only today’s protectionists and Luddites could grasp this most basic point.

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