When I was a young lad, back when young boys were called “lad”, I remember my father telling me that the mark of a rich person is when you don’t worry about feeding your family, heating your home, but more so, being able to buy toys for your child without thinking twice, and being able to take your wife out to dinner without having to worry if you can cover the expense. I remember on a vacation with my father, mother and siblings, many years ago in Atlantic City, my father returned holding a radio tape system. It was big and clunky, but it was the first we ever had. At that time it cost $100. My father couldn’t believe that he was able to spend $100 without planning and saving for weeks if not months. Clearly, that event left a very strong impression on me, one that I have passed down to my own children.
On more than one occasion I would randomly pull my children together, open the door to the refrigerator and asked them what they see. They would give me various answers, but the one I was looking for was simply, a refrigerator full of food. This was in no way an expectation that their own grandparents had when they were growing up. The simple fact is that we measure wealth relative to our memories, our neighbors, world standards and the like.
Most people would agree that any definition of wealth has to include food security and shelter, and arguably clean water [not necessarily running water, but definitely clean water]. Just a few years ago, Israel was facing a reality in which we could all find ourselves turning on our taps and nothing coming out. The great visionary pundits of a decade ago forecast that the great future wars in the Middle East would be about water, or more specifically the lack thereof. But then Israel established an astonishing countrywide desalination system that will soon eliminate the need for rainwater. Israel’s relationship with rainwater is so entrenched, that praying for rain is a 1000’s year old part of the Jewish religion. But then suddenly, in the span of a few years, we are, for all intents and purposes, water secure. Admittedly, it would’ve been much more dramatic to have the Red Sea split once again, but I hope that no one undervalues the significance of this modern-day miracle. Access to clean water makes every person in this country wealthy, by any definition that was in place until a few decades ago.
Israel’s agricultural technology exists in most parts of the developing world, being readily used by nations that nevertheless vote against Israel in the UN on a regular basis [whoever said logic was part of the Israeli experience]. Despite the concerns over genetically modified foods, we truly are not that far away from being able to grow tremendous quantities of food with a few seeds and a little water. The time will soon come that you will be able to take the products of this growth and throw it into a type of 3-D printer [dibs on the name “manna-maker”] that will produce any kind of food with any kind of taste that you want. I would be surprised if it takes longer than 30 to 40 years to eliminate hunger, probably across the entire world. The materials and technology required to make this a reality will be so inexpensive, that it will simply become impossible to keep them out of the hands of the people even in the most oppressive regimes.
Companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and others are working to bring a wireless Internet signal to the entire world. Free universal education. Universal banking with access to crowd-funded loans. Free textbooks. No need for killing trees for making paper for textbooks or workbooks. If you were to present such a picture to a person in the year 2000, it would unquestionably be considered the mark of a very wealthy world.
Clothing of any size, style, color – will be readily available via 3-D printers or their successors, using the cheapest possible base materials. Prefabricated homes that are also 3-D printed using readily available materials will become standard. The houses might be a little bit boring in the way they look, but they will have all the amenities, with piping for water, wiring for electricity, full access to the Internet and anything else necessary to give people access to almost anything they can dream of. Yes, that is wealth by almost any definition.
I personally have never been impressed with physical objects sitting in a case. I have a couple of worthless paintings hanging on my walls. If someone walked into my house and told me that I actually had an original Inigo Montoya worth 100 gazillion ancient Arabian shekels, I think I would just leave it hanging there. Admittedly, if I could trade it for a new Microsoft surface Pro 3 … sorry… surface Pro 4, I probably would do that. Ancient Arabian shekels don’t go that far anymore.
The point is that physical security, access to education, the ability to make a livelihood, and let us not forget, access to topline healthcare – these are in the opinions of many what separates the have-nots from the “haves”. I believe that technology will soon eliminate that line. I will obviously welcome that day. The truth is that I don’t know how the world will deal with such a new reality. This is hardly the Marxist version of the elimination of wealth. Rather than bringing everybody down, the new age we are already in, is bringing everybody up.
This does, though, pose one very fundamental problem: if everybody has six screens for their computer, how many will I have to get, to still be the special kid on the block?
May we all be kept safe under the hand of G-d in these very, very difficult times. One thing I do know is that in battle, one basic strategy very much depends on numbers. In other words, make Aliya and come home, because together, there is nothing we cannot win over.