Tom Smith has decided to trot out both Socialist fallacies and an ignorance of the lifecycle of technological innovation, and since people are actually paying attention thanks to an Instapundit link, I felt I must respond.
There's rarely much hope in talking about creating the value in money, or the imaginary zero-sum game, or the fact that huge dreams provide huge motivation to those who can accomplish great things and provide so much value to the world (which then *gasp* pays for it), or any of the usual tripe-prevention, and I won't comment at length on the contemptible act of suggesting that Charles Simonyi and his like-minded dreamers fantasize about sexual promiscuity to rival some of Heinlein's characters. Those aren't within the scope of this blog anyway.
But I will comment on Smith's apparent ignorance of the life-cycle of technological innovation.
Most revolutionary innovation goes through a very predictable sequence. First is the basic research and commercial idea ... proof of feasability. Many people think it is appropriate for the government to finance this effort, although I do not. The first commercial idea is almost always bare-boned and ridiculously expensive. Its commercial success relies on rich people or corporations (or governments) buying the item.
Next is a period of refinement ... standardization of production methods, improved efficiency, cheaper materials. Entire industries can be created during this process, and the end result is typically a cheaper, but still bare, product available to the masses. Please note, however, that if the original customer of the item is a government, it is frequently unnecessary to go through this process, and the item remains in the hands of the government or major corporations.
The next step is to come up with desirable frills. Again, they start off expensive and are marketed to those who can afford it.
And the last phase is, again, making the new, full-featured product cheap enough for the masses. This is the point at which consequent innvoation just explodes.
ENIAC on one end, Napster's peer-to-peer software architecture on the other. Gramaphone on one end, pink leather-sheathed Ipods on the other. Otto's and Daimler's gas engines on one end, rural power generation and food transport adequate enough to support large cities on the other. Cameras. Cars. Computers. Boats. Airplanes. Telecom. Books. Electricity. Plumbing supplies. Fertilizer and farming equipment. Anything made of steel. Anything made of plastic.
And the future of space flight.
And all because a few "selfish" rich people found it worthwhile to buy something during the expensive steps. So really ... cheer loudly for every expensive purchase you consider frivolous, or give silent thanks to the value they provided to get rich and their invaluable contribution to the things you and your descendants will enjoy.
Or find a cave and some lightning-struck fire, and condemn to your heart's content.
Update: Hello folks from Instapundit. Welcome to my formerly quiet hole in the wall. Just to clarify Glenn's characterization of my position ... it's not that I thought that he was approving Smith's analysis. It's that I thought he was either approving Smith's analysis OR providing both soapbox and audience to his adversaries. I could not understand either act. Regrettable confusion ensued.