This essay is derived from a talk at Oscon 2004. A few months ago I finished a new book, and in reviews I keep noticing words like “provocative” and “controversial. I didn’t mean to make the book controversial.
I was trying to make it efficient. I didn’t want to waste people’s time telling them things they already knew. It’s more efficient just to give them the diffs. But I suppose that’s bound to yield an alarming book.
There’s no controversy about which idea is most controversial: the suggestion that variation in wealth might not be as big a problem as we think. I didn’t say in the book that variation in wealth was in itself a good thing. I said in some situations it might be a sign of good things. A throbbing headache is not a good thing, but it can be a sign of a good thing– for example, that you’re recovering consciousness after being hit on the head. Variation in wealth can be a sign of variation in productivity.
In a society of one, they’re identical. And that is almost certainly a good thing: if your society has no variation in productivity, it’s probably not because everyone is Thomas Edison. It’s probably because you have no Thomas Edisons. In a low-tech society you don’t see much variation in productivity.