The following is a yearbook essay for my students. We had daily Thinking, Writing, Reading, and Composition lectures last year (called TWRC lessons), hence the title of the essay.
The great 19th century economist, Frederic Bastiat, said that in a general way, production is an effort followed by a result. And progress is when you increase the ratio of the result to the effort. In other words, to progress, you either produce more with the same effort, or produce the same with less effort. Now this kind of progress isn’t just desirable when talking about a country’s economy; we, in our own individual lives, hope for a similar kind of economic progress. For instance, at 18 you may work 40 hours in a week and gross $400 ($10/hour). At the age of 28 or 38 to make “progress,” one might hope to make much more ($800, $1,600, $3,200!) but without working any more than the original 40 hours a week. How does one achieve this magic?! After all, the amount of work (40 hours a week) is the same.
Let’s go back to the macro level. In the history of man, the norm for 400,000 years was (to quote philosopher Thomas Hobbes) a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short life. Life expectancy was in the 20s or 30s and starvation was always just around the corner. However, (see chart below) at some point, “progress” was made. It wasn’t the case that men worked more; it was that their work was more efficacious, more powerful, more wealth-producing, more life-enhancing and life-furthering. What happened?
During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Western Civilization went back to school and relearned all that was lost from the Ancient Greeks and Romans.Then came The Enlightenment, or some call it, The Age of Reason. At this time the West took the Greeks a step further. They took reason from Aristotle and realized that when applied to the material world, “progress” (more wealth for the same effort) could be made. The motto of the intellectuals of the period was Sapere Aude, or, “dare to know.” Their work led directly to the Industrial Revolution and the happy reality of our generation being by far the most prosperous in the history of man.
Sapere Aude, or “Dare to Know,” is a phrase we push at Falls (along with “Eat the Frog”). Our guiding philosophy is that a “daring to know” will create the kind of life-giving progress that Bastiat speaks of. Our hope is that you leave Falls with the connection firmly in mind that an abundance of knowledge leads to an abundance in prosperity, in a civilization but also in the individual, in economics but also in spirit.