American Consequences - January 2018

benefit packages resulting from supply-side labor market shortfalls. The discovery of the New World meant a literal economic transition. The Spanish transitioned an estimated $530 billion in silver and gold from the Western Hemisphere to Europe. Since there were only about 90 million Europeans at the time, this meant that each of them got $5,888.88 apiece and everybody was rich... or so simple arithmetic would tell us. The ‘Industrial Revolution’ was great for everyone... everyone, that is, who was rich already. “ Simple arithmetic would also tell us that the people who lived in the New World lost $530 billion, and modern research indicates that European diseases killed as many as 90% of them. If you were a surviving Native American, you were a rounding error. And broke, too. But the “Industrial Revolution” was great for everyone... everyone, that is, who was rich already. They were selling the coal from their estates, boiling steam at their factories, and spinning cotton in their mills. We were mining the coal, shoveling it into boilers, and working as child laborers on the looms. Eventually, of course, the Industrial Revolution was great for everyone. Microwave ovens for rich and poor alike!

And the scientific knowledge and technical expertise that resulted from the Industrial Revolution led directly to The Transition we are experiencing now – the “Digital Revolution.” This may be the most significant economic transition since we came down from the trees. Will it benefit the few? Will it benefit the many? We’ll use me as an example of the many and Mark Zuckerberg as an example of the few. How have we been doing, comparatively? Let’s start in 1987. That was when Time named the Personal Computer its “Man of the Year.” We’ll count 1987 as the beginning of the Digital Revolution. In 1987, I was a freelance magazine writer with an uncertain income stream. I owned a small (mortgaged) house in the country. I had about $20,000 equity in the house, maybe $10,000 in the bank, and an old pickup truck. My net worth was about $31,500. In 1987, Mark Zuckerberg was three. I think we can calculate his net worth (assuming a piggy bank) to have been in the low one figures. The Digital Revolution has now been going on for 30 years. I am a freelance magazine editor with an uncertain income stream. I own a large (mortgaged) house in the country. I have three children in private schools and an old pickup truck. My net worth (adjusted for inflation) is... about $31,500. Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth is $72.3 billion.

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