The Robert Heinlein Quote on Why Poverty is the Natural Condition of Man
“Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances…are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating…the people then slip back into abject poverty.” -The Robert Heinlein Quote on Poverty
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Why Poverty is the Normal Condition of Man
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might recognize the name Robert Heinlein. He was a science fiction author in the 20th Century whose book, Orphans of the Sky, I reviewed. He also wrote other great science fiction books, such as Starship Troopers. But, even more than those books, I think that this Robert Heinlein quote on poverty is his greatest contribution to America.
The importance of this Robert Heinlein quote is not because of its literary importance- in that respect, his science fiction works are far more important. Rather, it is important because it shows how society advances and how society collapses, an idea that I have been thinking a good bit about recently due to the chaos caused by Antifa.
As said in this Robert Heinlein quote, the “natural state of man is poverty.” Or, as Thomas Hobbes said in Leviathan, life is usually “nasty, brutish, and short.” That is a fact of history that cannot usually be avoided. Even in the best and most prosperous empires of history, namely the Babylonian, Chinese, and Roman Empires, life was only good for those at the top. For the average peasant, life might have been marginally better during those empires than during times like the Dark Ages, but life was horrific nonetheless. Poverty, starvation, and misery were the facts of life for anyone not at the top of the societal pyramid up until quite recently.
Capitalism changed all that, as is recounted in numerous books, namely Free Market Revolution, Civilization: The West and the Rest, and The Wealth of Nations. Capitalism empowers the innovators described in this Robert Heinlein quote. It gives them the freedom they need to innovate, take risks, and create new processes or pieces of equipment.
Unfortunately, even with capitalism, those innovators are often despised and looked down on by the rest of society, as is identified in this Robert Heinlein quote on poverty. Powerful individuals with a vested interest in preventing innovation and the average members of society that dislike improvement and change tend to resist innovation, however helpful it might be. Just think of the Luddites of the industrial age, the “anti-monopolists” and “muckrakers” of the Gilded Age, or the anti-technology people of today. Innovation makes society better, but it often has to vault over numerous societal hurdles before it is able to do so.
In America, other than a brief period of unpleasantness during the Gilded Age, innovation has traditionally been embraced and supported. We are a nation of free-spirited individuals that tinker, experiment and create. Whereas Europe valued aristocrats, the same people that kept them oppressed and impoverished for centuries, we Americans valued innovators like Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, and Samuel Colt that innovated and made life better for everyone.
Now, however, we Americans face a crossroads. That crossroad, caused by the intersection of democracy and socialism (democratic socialism) that even CS Lewis decried as evil and stifling in The World’s Last Night, is between continued innovation or societal stagnation and collapse.
On one hand, we have continued innovation and support of it. We could continue to allow great men like Elon Musk and his companies, namely SpaceX and Tesla, to continue to create new things and create better ways of doing things. All those innovators need is lower taxes, personal freedom, and society to leave them alone.
As John Galt says to Head of State Thompson in Atlas Shrugged, all the “creators” of society need to continue creating is for the rest of society to just “get the hell out of [our] way!” That’s the point of this Robert Heinlein quote- to remain prosperous that small minority of better men and women need the freedom to experiment and create.
On the other hand, Americans have the choice of embracing the evil ideology of socialism, now called “democratic socialism.” That ideology is what leads to stagnation and poverty. Just read Atlas Shrugged; when society embraces socialism, man returns to the natural state of poverty that is identified in this Robert Heinlein quote.
That is because socialism is the exact opposite of capitalism. Far from empowering innovators and other great men, socialism stifles them. The behemoth of the state prevents men from experimenting and risking it all in return for potentially reaping great profits.
Profit is not evil, whatever the socialists claim. Instead, it is the force that provides an incentive for creation and innovation, both of which lead to societal prosperity. The point of this Robert Heinlein quote is that we can only remain prosperous if we empower those people; when they are stifled, which is what happens under a socialist system, society collapses into the depths of poverty, as has happened in Venezuela.
Finally, I would like to end my discussion of this Robert Heinlein quote with an Ayn Rand quote that says something similar. It comes from The Fountainhead, another great book of hers.
““Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received — hatred. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”
That quote says nearly the same thing as the Robert Heinlein quote I am discussing in this article. Innovators often face the hatred and scorn of society, despite the fact that they are the ones creating prosperity. America is, perhaps, the one nation that has almost always embraced capitalism and innovation. Now that we are at a crossroad, we need to follow the right path, the one that re-embraces entreprenuers and innovators.
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