Wealth Consists Mainly in Ideas

(p. 67) Through all the centuries of man, there has recurred this same morbid misunderstanding of the nature of wealth and the wealth of nations. Always wealth is seen as something solid and calculable: to be seized and held, clutched and hoarded, measured and inventoried, amassed and monopolized. In the age of imperialism, it was imagined to consist in land and the armies that could acquire it; in the mercantilist era, it was recognized as bullion, gained through a favorable balance of trade; in every period, men have fawned over gems and glitter; in the modern age, fossil fuels and strategic minerals have seemed to be the open sesame, but seekers of wealth still fumble for gold and baubles, and real estate as well.

All bespeak the materialistic fallacy, a fixation of leftists, but a shibboleth also for much of the intelligentsia of capitalism: the idea that wealth is material and collectible, finite and definable, subject to measurement and inventory, to entropy and exhaustion. The way to get rich is to find some precious substance and (p. 68) hold It. Its price will inevitably rise in time as its quantity declines with use. This is the fantasy through which Pierre Trudeau was bankrupting Canada in the early 1980s and the Arab leaders were impoverishing the world and destroying their own future.
Wealth consists not chiefly in things but in thought: in the ideas and applications that confer value to what seems useless to the uninformed. The Arab leaders should learn that they can best enhance the value of oil–and the wealth of oil-producing nations–by lowering its price and enlarging its uses. This is the central rule of riches, understood by every major titan of wealth, from John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford to the entrepreneurs of modern computers and the industrialists of contemporary Japan. Each gained his fortune not by increasing the price of his product but by drastically dropping it, bringing it within the reach of the creative uses and ideas of millions, and thus vastly enlarging its total value and market.

Gilder, George. Recapturing the Spirit of Enterprise: Updated for the 1990s. updated ed. New York: ICS Press, 1992.

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