Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local,
the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion
is guaranteed. Sound idyllic?
But hold on"¦ Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or
soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation;
there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is
egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no
industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic
because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As
a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical
work which may end up yielding little.
There is "“ or at least was "“ such a
place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the
enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary,
there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence
and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life.
One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning,
electricity and flush toilets. The other does not. One owner has a a
computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a
movie collection, and several television sets. The other has none of
these things. One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a
toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning,
a coffee maker, and a decent car. The other has none of these. One
owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his
warm in the summer time. One owner can pick up the telephone and do
business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by
train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.