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ECON103: Unit 3 Essay - Value of Labor (Vilson)

Below is my essay for ECON103: Unit 3 Essay - Value of Labor. Any comments from fellow students is highly appreciated.

As humans evolved and discovered new ways or being more productive, their time became more valuable. In this essay, I try to look at it from three different perspectives: the individual, the collective and the transgenerational.

Initially, the gains in the value of labor probably took place in an individual level, with individuals acquiring and refining their skills. That free time could be then use to communicate those skills to other individuals, so that they could learn those skills even faster and improve them further, resulting in an even more productive group of individuals, and so on. Those same individuals could then use their free time to “tinker” with the world around them, which led to the development of primitive tools that allowed those skills to be potentialized, resulting in the production of even more economic goods in less time. Teaching and the development of tools started as something done leisurely, as telling stories and playing, but as soon as the value of those activities became obvious to the individuals, they turned into independent forces that potentialized the value of human time.

Looking at it from a collective perspective, a skilled group of individuals would benefit from sharing the information on how to acquire new skills and also from producing tools that would make the use of those skills even more valuable. Moreover, those individuals could then specialize in a certain set of skills in which they would be more productive, and then trade the goods produced this way with those produced by people that specialized in a different set of skills. In this sense, the quest of the individuals to make their time more valuable, even when done purely in a selfish manner, creates a stimulus for cooperation with other individuals, which can make the time of each of the cooperating individuals simultaneously more valuable.

Finally, from a transgenerational perspective, the cooperation among individuals and the exponentially larger value created by those interactions soon made apparent that the value created could be spread not only across space (though communication and trade), but also across time, from one generation to the next. The impulse to engage in such activities is probably natural, and derives from our natural instinct of ensuring the continuity of our own species and genetic lineage. This led to the development of specific tools to store information, so that it could be transmitted to future generations, but also to store wealth.

This brief overview on how human time became more valuable over the course of history also underscores the importance of two foundational layers for human development: the communications layer and the monetary layer. The first one is necessary for the dissemination of skills and technologies that improve our productivity and free our time. And the second is necessary for the accumulation and dissemination of wealth through generations. While the communications layer has coalesced into the internet and become widespread by mobile technology, largely escaping the control of any particular group of individuals, the monetary layer is still under the monopoly of nations and governments around the world. It seems that the coalescence of the monetary layer in a similar manner is an obvious and necessary step for the continuous increase in the value of human time and overall evolution of humanity.