Economic Multipliers (15)

Do you know what these are?

They help CREATE wealth in systems.

Gradients drive change and change CAN be an economic multiplier.


Imagine living in the 1700’s and having the skill to grind your own glasses, enough electrical knowledge to develop the lightning rod, enough foresight to set up a public library, fire department and postal system, enough ingenuity to develop a more efficient wood stove, enough wisdom to help draft a Constitution (that’s endured for over 200 years), ALMOST enough tact to be an Ambassador for the United States, and the ability to alter public opinion through many times lighthearted text.

That was Benjamin Franklin.

Many people don’t know that prior to the development of the lightning rod, if a house was struck by lightning, fire brigades many times let it burn to the ground. People thought that if a house was struck by lightning, it was an act of God and God was ‘punishing’ the occupants. They’d save the houses on both sides but not the house that was struck.

When the lightning rod was first developed, some religious leaders argued that they should not be installed on buildings because lightning was ‘God’s punishment’ and human beings shouldn’t ‘mess around with’ God.

In this age of rapidly evolving science (the 1700’s), science-minded individuals noted that God certainly didn’t want people to be cold or wet in the midst of winter if he gave them the knowledge and ability to build shelter, didn’t want them to be hungry if he gave them the knowledge and ability to grow and hunt for food, etc. so he certainly couldn’t want people’s homes burning down if he gave them lightning rods.

But the BEST arguments presented (or perhaps the most unusual) were that God certainly didn’t want weapons arsenals (the community’s protection) blowing up (which happened occasionally during lightning strikes) or churches burning down (steeples with bells were particularly good at attracting lightning).

Science prevailed (possibly because some of the most prominent scientists of the time were ministers) and we have never looked at ‘acts of God’ quite the same since.

We ask ourselves most often if we have the ability to change the probability that events will occur. One of my favorite books, written by Peter Bernstein, is about how mathematics and science have changed how we look at the world and our ability to change probabilities: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning from this book (appreciate that I ENJOY reading about stuff like this – I always believe people should pick worthy topics – but in areas that they enjoy).

Connections, a television series originally shown on the BBC (and sometimes available on videotape or DVD through Interlibrary Loan if you can’t access it in other ways) is another medium that I believe I’ll never stop learning from. James Burke has an incredible ability to link inventions to the evolution of human thought (and vice versa). If you are interested in applied science (creating things or inventing things) and the evolution of everything that you’d like to buy but can’t always afford, Connections is an amazing series.

I tell you these things because you might change something someday. Books and series like these can help you make sense of all the science and math. And, if you do change something, I hope it’s something that changes things for the better.

I dabble in ‘inventing’ sometimes but most often look at why we do not take advantage of and apply the knowledge people have already developed (and from my perspective, the quantity of ‘unapplied’ knowledge is staggering).

If everyone wanted to reprove that 1+3=4, we wouldn’t get very far.

When I look at the world, I think of everything moving because of gradients (differences) which is probably why one of my favorite tools measures vertical angles (slopes) (OPEN). We change our world for the better when we use ‘gradients’ to our advantage. I know that:

  • Water runs downhill (water power).

  • Moisture moves toward cold (dehumidifiers: easiest to think about example: water running down the side of a cold glass on a hot humid day).

  • Electricity moves from high potential to low potential (EVERYTHING electrical!).

  • Liquid and gaseous substances tend to disperse (Dilution is the solution to pollution?: In RARE instances, yes. Most times, it’s better to address the source).

  • Mankind likes to make things easier (inventions, inventions, inventions).

I could go on and on.

As the world changes, it’s easy to get drawn down by the undercurrents or swept over by the tides. And, not all change is good, OR if it is good, it’s not good in excess or without thinking about trailing effects (like pollution or future waste streams or future costs).

The ironic thing about ‘change’ is that it is ‘constant.’ Change is the nature of the world we live in today. Change is the nature of the world people lived in during the 1700’s. Change is the nature of the world mankind has lived in ever since the very first person said (in so many words):

  • ‘I can change a probability. It’s easier to do things if we do them like this.'

  • ‘I can change a probability. It’s easier to do things if we use this.'

For most changes (like the ‘excess’ sometimes of technology in our world), we just simply need to step back and evaluate it like we might if we ate at a buffet:

  • Did we take a good selection of healthy foods?

  • Did we overindulge?

  • Did we leave something for the next person (or next generation) that will come along behind us?

Ben Franklin was an interesting character: He never patented any of his inventions (but do believe he copyrighted all his publications). In regard to patents, he felt that he was living in a world of ‘advanced technology’ and all of his inventions built upon the genius of others. As a man of practicality, thrift and hard work, I sometimes wonder what he would say if he knew that there are parts of the world today which still don’t have reliable electrical systems (or possibly even know how lightning rods work).