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PC's Opinion: Making the World Hum

This opinion piece is the eighth in a new series of "PC's Weekly Opinion" - a pithy, heavily spiced editorial from Peter Cresswell that can be delivered to your in-box once a week. If you like what you read then feel free to forward it to everyone you've ever met, and to subscribe at www.libz.org . And if you don’t like what you read, then learn to get over it.


PC's Weekly Opinion

Making the World Hum


By Peter Cresswell


In Auckland's Americas Cup Harbour are three new-ish buildings symbolising the best the west has to offer.

The buildings themselves are unexceptional examples of contemporary Polystyrene Baroque, but contained within are three great benefactors of mankind: Microsoft, Compaq and Sun Microsystems. Together in the Viaduct Basin these three ambassadors represent three of the world's largest companies, and also represent almost everything anyone would want to know about twenty-first century capitalism.

Most people know something about these three: even cave dwellers in eastern Afghanistan know that Microsoft produces software and Compaq produces computers - on which software runs intermittently between crashes. They might even know that Sun Microsystems produces the stuff that holds the Internet together - over and around which lots and lots of groovy computer software stuff is sent and swapped and stored. Each of these three companies is a world leader in their field; each of them needs the products of the others to make their own stuff hum; and together they form a very simple equation:

Computer Software + Computer Hardware + Internet = $$$$$$. (To be precise: Piles & piles of $$$$$$.)

But they don’t just produce money for their shareholders, they also produce wealth. Wealth is not money: it is material goods - stuff - produced by us to make our lives better, and the reason investors in these three companies are independently wealthy is that their stuff has made the rest of us so much more productive in making the stuff that makes our lives better. It turns out we need their stuff like we need a cold beer on a Sunday afternoon - desperately!

Neat software, cool computers and a wildly overstocked internet have made busy capitalists so darned productive that even when we're hungover from too many Xmas parties we still churn out more good stuff than has ever been churned out before. These three represent the fecundity of capitalism, and also make it all possible.

But why three companies working together synergistically instead of just one on its own? How come? Well, these three companies more than any other symbolise the beneficial division of labour that makes capitalism so damned productive, and which rewards each of us for becoming ever more specialised.

Capitalism ultimately is an institution in which the division of labour makes us all more productive in producing the stuff we need - more productive because we are all able to specialise in what we are good at; more productive because the world's geniuses are able to specialise in what they are stupendous at (allowing even we sub-geniuses to produce more on the strength of the intelligence of these geniuses); more productive because the sum total of human knowledge is multiplied by the number of specialists a society can support; and more productive because even we dummies get to use the cool machines that the geniuses have put together, wherever in the world those geniuses are.

Thus, in the case of Microsoft, Compaq and Sun we get three geniuses rather than one, each working in their own speciality to make each other's (and our) work more productive - it is this division of labour that makes capitalism (and us) so productive.

Bt there's something uniquely twenty-first century about these three (and not just because there weren't any computer crashes in Adam Smith's day). Three centuries after the Industrial Revolution kicked off in the coalfields of England it is no longer heavy industry that symbolises the production of wealth. In twenty-first century capitalism the engine of production is no longer muscle and sweat, but the use of the human mind - and the products of Microsoft, Compaq and Sun Microsystems are uniquely representative of this. Even an imbecile can use a pick and shovel, but only someone with a brain can make head or tail out of a spreadsheet.

If heavy industry symbolised human ingenuity applied to production, then the computer technology of Microsoft, Compaq and Sun symbolises human ingenuity applied to making human ingenuity more industrious.

So there they sit these three in Auckland's Viaduct Harbour, these ambassadors of twenty-first century capitalism, cheek by jowl with each other - and frankly, I think something out to be done about that!

And rest assured, dear reader, something is being done. This Sunday I, and as many others who wish to do likewise, will be WalkingForCapitalism and honouring these three great benefactors with an Award for Capitalism!

And not just these three - we intend to honour each and every business in and around Auckland's Viaduct Basin with a similar award. It's our way of saying 'Thank You' for being in business, and for adding your own special something to making this funny little city a better and wealthier place in which to live.

That's why we'll be WalkingForCapitalism this Sunday, and that's why I'll be marching up to these three polystyrene-clad beauties in Auckland's Viaduct basin and planting a huuuuuge ribbon on them: To celebrate wealth and human fecundity.

I encourage you to join in and do the same, whatever city you may be in. And with over 108 cities participating, there's bound to be one near you.

Let's Walk!

© Libz.org 2001

[NB: The Auckland WalkForCapitalism will kick off at noon from QEII Square at the foot of Queen Street, and proceed merrily through the Viaduct Basin to Victoria Park. Feel free to join us, or just to throw money.]

This column may be reproduced anywhere, anytime, by anyone - just as long as it is reproduced in full, with attribution to libz.org, and that you let Peter know at organon@ihug.co.nz .


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