To a Caveman Very Few Things Are Resources
Brett: There was a story on ITV in the U.K. talking about how much supposed waste Amazon produces, that Amazon was routinely destroying a whole bunch of products.
I thought, “Why are these people inserting their opinion into a business that they know absolutely nothing about?” Would they prefer Amazon to have the perfect knowledge of precisely how many products need to be made? In other words, an epistemologically impossible situation to be in. Or would they prefer that Amazon made insufficient products, so the people who wanted to purchase them weren’t actually able to get ahold of them?
What Amazon does, of course, is make slightly more than what they need. That’s what happens in any business. They make slightly more than what they need now and again.
Naval: I once had a venture capitalist argue to me that there were too many kinds of shoes and it was an example of how capitalism had failed because nobody needs this many kinds of sneakers.
My question to him was, “When did you know that there were too many shoes?” What’s the point in history where we decide there are too many shoes? Before we needed more shoes because we needed more stretchy shoes, we needed more durable shoes, we needed thicker soled shoes, we needed lighter shoes, we needed all kinds of amazing shoe innovations.
And then at some point, somebody decides, “Actually we have enough shoes. Now we need to kill all the other shoe lines.” Where did you come up with this idea that you just happened to be born at the right time and the right place to identify that yes we have enough shoes?
This is a certain parochialism that everyone falls into.
There’s a more macro version of it, which is this “we’re running out of resources” philosophy. It starts with this idea that the Earth is finite, that there’s this finite set of resources and we’re consuming them all. And therefore we’re all going to die if we don’t tamp back our consumption.
First of all, how did you decide that it was the Earth? How did you decide that your town wasn’t running out of resources? Why wasn’t the town the actual area that you wanted to save and then everything outside of that was foreign and unreachable?
Why draw the boundary around the Earth? We could go to the solar system. We could go to the galaxy, we could go to the universe. We could go to the multiverse. There are a lot of resources out there if you know how to harness them.
Then, how do you define what a resource is? A resource is just something that through knowledge you can convert from one thing to another.
There was a time when coal wasn’t a resource; iron wasn’t a resource. To a caveman very few things are resources—just a few edible plants and a few edible animals and that’s it.
Domestication, harvesting crops, metallurgy, chemistry, physics, developing engines and rockets—all of these are things that are taking things that we thought were worthless and turning them into resources. Uranium has gone from being completely worthless to being an incredible resource.
This finite resource model of the world implicitly assumes finite knowledge. It says knowledge creation has come to an end. We are stuck at this current point, and, therefore, based on the knowledge that we have currently, these are all the resources available to us. Now we must start conserving.
But knowledge is a thing that we can always create more of.