False Economy by Allan Beattie makes a lot of interesting points. For example, countries that import food are often just importing water — it’s more practical to import food than to use scarce water to grow it, even if the land is available. And pandas are pointless, while cats have identified a market niche for their services and exploited it to the fullest.
In the penultimate chapter, Beattie writes about being on a path and sticking with it no matter what. I guess we all know that the QWERTY keyboard was designed to make us type more slowly, since typewriters got jammed if people typed fast. I didn’t know that it was also designed to make the work “typewriter” easy to type for salesmen who couldn’t actually type but used to type that word out to demonstrate the machine.
After the mechanical reasons for the inefficient keyboard became obsolete, it still made sense for everyone to use the same keyboard as long as typists were trained. That is, there was a benefit to being able to train a typist and know that he or she would be able to use all the machines.
Now that we all have our own keyboards which cannot jam, and typists hardly even exist, there’s absolutely no reason for us to use an intentionally inefficient keyboard, but we still do. For no reason.
How often do we continue in a path just because we’re on that path, whether there’s still a good reason for it or not?
Beattie shows how nations and economies set themselves on a path and just stay on it, regardless of the consequences. Maybe we do that as individuals sometimes, too.