By Fred Smith
Egalitarians are often upset that technological breakthroughs, whether new cancer drugs or computers, are first only available to the wealthy while the masses must wait until they’re more affordable.
This concern neglects the fact that new products are not only costly but risky. Moreover, many experimental drugs and devices initially appear hopeful but fall flat in practice. New technologies often entail higher than expected maintenance costs or simply prove too erratic for success. In a market economy, those risks are (thankfully) borne by the wealthy. They can afford the high cost and low quality associated with breakthrough products. Central heating and air conditioners; radios, televisions, and DVD players; GPS, anti-lock brakes, and now automatic braking systems; even experimental medical procedures -all initially costly and “clunky” products.
By supporting the initial market, wealthy consumers encourage producers to invest in product enhancements and production efficiencies that - if the product proves useful - make the breakthrough available to all. The rich buy expensive, complex and low quality products - and, in so doing, make it possible for us to obtain a simpler, more affordable, high-quality product.
In experimental biology, we use white mice to test the unknown. In capitalism, the rich voluntarily accept this role. Many are upset over income inequalities, but if one reflects, we need these “white mice.” What would life be like without them!