Two hundred years ago the American people were quite a bit more equal in terms of wealth, and life was marked by unrelenting drudgery. Those relatively brutal living conditions weren’t an effect of socialism, even though socialism would have eventuated the same outcome.
The shame of socialism is that the wildly talented are restrained from profitably improving the lives of the people around them, and perhaps continents away. Thinking about life two hundred years ago, distance was a severely limiting factor for the talented when it came to think making things better for everyone. No doubt there were people with skills similar to those of the richest Americans today, and some became very well-to-do by early 19th century standards. But they didn’t become staggeringly rich simply because a lack of technology limited the ability of the ‘1 percenters’ of the early 19th to touch the U.S. (and the world) with their genius. Limited technology has socialistic qualities in the outcome sense for it restraining the brilliant from improving the lives of others while getting rich for doing just that.
But as is well known now, inequality of the wealth variety began to soar toward the end of the 19th century, and even more in the early part of the 20th. It used to be that when night fell, the day ended. With most lacking the means to burn candles that didn’t much illuminate as is, there was little to do or see at night. John D. Rockefeller’s first fortune remedied this living-standard cruelty. The kerosene that he sold widely quite literally lit up the night for the common man.
Thanks to railroads and other advances that were bringing on the “death of distance,” someone of Rockefeller’s entrepreneurial caliber could suddenly reach more than just the locals with his skills. That was one source of his early wealth. And then he shifted his focus to the refining of oil. Rockefeller’s mass marketing of gasoline eventually gave life to the automobile that Henry Ford grew immensely rich mass producing. Whether it was ships, railroads, cars, trucks, or airplanes, technological advances were all about bringing on the “death of distance.” Before technology shrank the U.S. and the world in a figurative sense, entrepreneurial genius was logically a narrow, town and/or neighborhood concept. After its proliferation, the surging inequality that resulted was the very predictable, and very happy result. The “robber barons” got rich by virtue of erasing cruel living standards simply because the talented could more and more serve the masses. Readers should never forget that the richest entrepreneurs almost always get that way by improving the living conditions of the greatest number of people. Surging wealth inequality is rather egalitarian and immensely compassionate despite what you’re told.
Which brings us to a recent USA Today article about Pizza Hut, and how it may “be taking its pie-making show on the road.” Yes indeed. As the self-driving car future becomes increasingly clear, it’s no surprise that businesses are feverishly working to figure out ways to profit from cars that no longer need drivers. Those profits are a sign that living standards are set to take yet another life-enhancing leap in the not-too-distant future.
In Pizza Hut’s case, USA Today’s Mike Snider reports that the chain is planning a “pizza-making robot prototype that cooks pizzas on the way to customers’ homes…” As Pizza Hut COO Nicolas Burquier told Snider, “We are always looking to find ways to bring the oven even closer to the doors of our consumers.” Death of distance indeed. If driving and pizza-making can be automated, then so can the size of the market that Pizza Hut chains serve expand. Even in big cities we’re already aware of how restaurants can frequently only serve a limited area, but if cars with ovens are driverless, getting pizza will no longer be a problem. Even in rural areas. Pizza Hut’s growing revenues will signal how much more useful the chain is to a growing number of people.
The profits will also be a sign of how much better-tasting are the pizzas that reach the chain’s customers. As Burquier went on to tell Snider, “Our obsession is always the same: How do we reduce the gap between the moment when the pizza comes out of the oven and when the customer starts to enjoy eating our product?” Technology is increasingly solving what was once a distance and time problem, along with one associated with not always reliable drivers. Translated, driverless cars and automated pizza-makers can’t call in sick, can’t give customers attitude, don’t require sleep, plus they realistically can’t quit. The days of 24-hour pizza delivery aren’t too far off….
Walmart understands what Pizza Hut does: its profits will grow the more that it makes life easier for existing and potential customers. And so it’s focused on innovating. USA Today’s Charisse Jones writes that this holiday season, Walmart shoppers will be able to use “a digital map to find the toy or TV they’re looking for, then make the purchase right in the aisle where they find it.” These two shopping enhancements will come care of an app that will enable shoppers to “pinpoint the location of whatever item they’re needing to tick off their holiday list,” and then employees stationed throughout the retailer’s stores will be nearby to complete their purchases sans checkout lines. As Steve Bratspies, Walmart’s chief merchandising officer explained it, they always want buying to be “fast and convenient.” Of course.
And as Amazon’s Go stores remind us, entrepreneurs are just scratching the surface when it comes to expanding the ways in which they can serve us. Amazon wants customers to have a checkout-free experience in its physical stores, one or two day access to everything on sale with one-click, and if drones (or some other technological marvel) fulfill their promise, customers will eventually have near instantaneous access to the world’s plenty through a click of a mouse.
Crucial about all this is that the commercial seers who get the future right will grow stunningly rich for being right. The more convenient life is, the more unequal are the living. But as opposed to a sign of hardship, the happier truth is that life is truly cruel when the talented aren’t getting rich. That’s when we know that no one is devising ways to make our lives easier, cheaper, healthier, more productive, and everything else good. Life without rising inequality is very much like life with socialism.