Rise and Fall of Creativity
I began researching the industrial revolution in hopes of finding out what factors caused productive creativity to blossom, and what type of environment nurtures its growth.
It turns out that in England many of the key innovators arose from the ranks of the non-conformist churches, who believed in hard work and honesty. It was men who cared about what they were doing and the people for whom they were working who sought creative means of improving their efficiency.
It was a Quaker elder, for instance, who first began using sand for casting iron (instead of loam), and his concern about ecology led him to use coal for smelting instead of using up all the trees in a nearby forest. These innovations took place in a small town that was so poor that few people even used money – barter was the primary means of commerce at that time. These residents of Bristol England began to prosper – greatly as a result of these innovations. For another of several examples, consider a young Scottish minister named Stirling, who invented the most efficient heat engine known to mankind to this very day.
The primary factor that allowed development to continue is that the state did not intervene. In contrast, France and other continental counties raised protective tariffs, regulations, and other obstacles to reward. France and Germany did however produce fine schools of technology.
As near as I can tell, productive creativity boiled down to a combination of work ethic and a lack of state restrictions. The Roman Catholic church had lost its control over England, and the state had not yet learned how to monitor and control the people. The Puritan work ethic of England’s “non-conformist” churches, augmented by the prospect of rewards that would not be stifled by regulations or stolen by taxes, opened the doors of productive innovation. The term “Puritan work ethic” is so legendary that it has survived among people of culture to this day.
This combination of ethic and freedom is also associated with other historic examples of exceptional progress. The Renaissance was an expression of freedom and philosophical change, as the reformation challenged long-standing religious assumptions. Artistic expression soared, and innovative architectural techniques flourished.
Key pioneering groups carried this “Puritan work ethic” to the North America. Freedom from crushing financial and governmental burdens allowed technology to grow rapidly. Within a few short decades of their independence, technology and productivity surpassed that of Europe.
Japan had a deeply ingrained tradition of emperor worship, and a universally accepted culture of loyalties and respect. During World War II they were galvanized into a single objective, hungry for technologies and productivity to further their cause. With incredible ingenuity they quickly advanced and conquered populations many times their size.
We may assume that their ally Germany provided much of the essential technology, but they supplied many incredible innovations of their own. As the world can see, such innovation did not stop with the close of the war. It is interesting that even some business in the United States attempted to emulate their business styles, but with far less success. Alas, modern Americans now lacked the essential ethical basis required.
In all honesty, I am forced to include the perverse ethic that unified Germany, and drove the Third Reich to unbelievable levels of technical innovation. By-and-large, the Germans believed in what they were doing. Technical forecasters have estimated that had their progress in the field of rocketry gone uninterrupted, they would have been able to orbit a satellite by 1947. On the other hand Hitler’s narrowness and suppression concerning Jewish scientists crippled their development of nuclear weapons – an extremely fortuitous twist of history.
Along with the innovations and their resulting rewards, there are also records of jealousy and opposition. These seemed to come primarily from the established powers, unsettled by the shifts in prosperity which they did not control. The British aristocracy were disdainful of the “nobodies” who came into wealth through the industrial revolution. The American Revolution pried stifling political, military, and financial control from the grip of European masters.
It is sad, but there are always those who prefer to expend their creative energies upon controlling other people and their wealth. Unfortunately they are often the ones who achieve controlling positions in monetary systems, and ultimately become the shapers of federal monetary controls. It is they who used the productive power of innovation to develop virtual slave camps for thousands of over-worked and under-paid people. They are those who today feel that your business is their business, and who use the power of the governments they have purchased to make it so.
In England, the productive potential spawned by practical creativity was soon harnessed by those who had no ethic other than their own pockets. In Manchester for instance, there arose smog-belching sweat shops where men, women, and children worked sixteen hour days for barely enough to survive. This survival mentality soon drained the people of social, ethical, and even intellectual values to the point where they began to cry out for state intervention.
They received some hope when England’s reform bill of 1832 broadened the demographics of permissible voters, so the outcry of the laborers could be heard. The creation of labor unions however brought more meaningful pressure to bear upon the abusers.
This environment enabled people like Karl Marx to sound reasonable. The basic theory was simple, and aimed directly at the perceived problem: Redistribute the wealth produced by the productive power of technology. Karl recognized that the capitalists were not about to do this and therefore proposed that the state should. He also realized that the state was strongly influenced by the affluence, and was not about to attempt an instantaneous full-scale nationalization of wealth. Therefore, the only recourse was for the masses to rise up and take control of the state. The final phase of the theory was far enough removed from the symptoms at hand that it could remain a dream to be dealt with later. The theory was that once the masses were in control, benevolence would take over and those who were more productive would share freely with those who were not.
As naïve as this sounds, it was not totally without historical precedent. You see, it had not been all that long since the world had seen key innovators who were motivated by a sincere desire to improve the lives of those around them. It is one of the great ironies of history that a major assumption of atheistic communism was almost certainly based upon the observed practices of Godly men. Indeed, one of the purest examples of communism in history was the lavish love and sharing of wealth among the early Christians.
Historically, this dream has proven a nightmare in countries where such myoptic revolutions have taken place. The force and violence used to overthrow the capitalist regimes has been consistently maintained to enslave the people under yet tighter control. History has no more consistently proven economic and cultural failure than state-controlled communism.
If you want poverty for everybody except a politically elite ruling class, then require that the diligent workers share the fruits of their labors with the lazy. This tends to reduce everybody to a survival mentality in which ethics, culture, and even consideration for others cease to be priorities. Even as personal and religious ethics might motivate many to share with the poor, the involuntary appropriation of that which they have earned develops resentment for the needy, and tends to relieve people of natural feelings of responsibility for those less fortunate. Truth is replaced by theory, love by obligation, and productivity by nothing at all.