Saturday, May 17, 2014

Money Wisdom #265

" The greatest support to evasion comes from complexity. The problem seeming difficult, we postpone, compromise, yield to the conveniences of politics. To see how we use complexity as a device, it is good, on occasion, to go to a community or a countryside where things are sufficiently stark so that evasion is not possible. One admirable such place is Skidoo 23. It is in the Panamint Mountains in California, not far from the Nevada border, 5000 feet over Death Valley. Skidoo is a force for clarity.

It flourished as a mining town in the early part of this [the 20th] century. (The 23 refers, apparently, to the distance water was piped over the mountains to the mines.) Its greatest moment came in the 1908, the year of my birth. Skidoo's most dissolute citizen, Joe Simpson, shot and killed Jim Arnold, the storekeeper, banker and the most respected member of the Skidoo Establishment. Simpson was strung up on a telephone pole, the wires of which gave the news to the world. Reporters rushed in, and the media-conscious citizens strung Joe up a second time to show them how justice of a sort had been done.

No one can look at the deserted and empty mine shafts of Skidoo and escape the fact that resources are exhaustible and nonrenewable.

Skidoo shows also how fragile is the fabric of modern urban existence. Once it was a thriving community of 700 souls. Now the population is precisely nil. For Skidoo the problem was the economic base, as no one on this desert could fail to see. When that eroded, so did Skidoo.

Self-interest - the release of individual energies - made Skidoo. No one could imagination that any other force could bring people hundreds and thousands of miles to bury themselves in the holes one sees here. No one here could believe there is some collectivist or socialist miracle that would similarly populate the desert.

In Skidoo men mined gold. Everything there shows finally how much energy men can expend for no social purpose. Let all reflect upon the idle piles in which the gold, most of it, still resides. This capacity for wasting effort is a useful thought to take to the subject of competitive weapons manufacture."

John Kenneth Galbraith The Age of Uncertainty (1977) p.339-340

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