Innovation and the ‘Creation’ of Time

I make no secret of being a huge fan of Matt Ridley’s body of work, and his latest addition to this, The Rational Optimist, seems like a welcome addition.

A wonderful summary of the book’s main theme–that innovation and the spreading of theories and ideas is the key to a prosperous future and we should be optimistic for what lies ahead because of this–has been written by John Tierney, with a nice look at one reason why innovation and its companions are important for progress:

“Forget wars, religions, famines and poems for the moment,” Dr. Ridley writes. “This is history’s greatest theme: the metastasis of exchange, specialization and the invention it has called forth, the ‘creation’ of time.”

You can appreciate the timesaving benefits through a measure devised by the economist William D. Nordhaus: how long it takes the average worker to pay for an hour of reading light. In ancient Babylon, it took more than 50 hours to pay for that light from a sesame-oil lamp. In 1800, it took more than six hours of work to pay for it from a tallow candle. Today, thanks to the countless specialists producing electricity and compact fluorescent bulbs, it takes less than a second.