The Law of Large Numbers (LLN) says that if you do anything long enough, the average will out. Say, for example, you are flipping a coin. The average of 50-50 will come to pass if you flip the coin long enough.
The cabinetmaking trade in England in the 1770’s and 80’s began to change because of the growing middle class. The demand for furniture allowed for new entrepreneurs to depredate the middle class with furniture made by non-apprentice trained cabinetmakers. In a way, the LLN dictates that the care put into something diminishes as demand rises and that there is a quality level that is inevitably achieved by this demand. It is neither the best nor the worst on average, but it can be superb and it can also be quite poor.
As individuals, what we know is determined by our concentration on a subject. I know very little about cooking, but the LLN will say that a man of my age and background knows an average, quite probably more than I do. I exist as part of that average and yet I still know next to nothing about cooking.
The key to modern living is based on the LLN. Almost everything we have, food, energy, transportation is designed on an average. What is most interesting, as happened to the English cabinetmaking trade in the 18th century, is that the large numbers keep getting larger and that they necessarily change the equation.
Think in terms of the men who founded the country. Could they have imagined writing a document that was appicable to 300,000,000 people? I don’t think so. Our future will be determined by how well we understand the changing formula of the LLN and how it drives us. It doesn’t have a political ideology and it has nothing to do with sentiment. It just is. The only variable that might affect it is education. That should be our first priority.
I think the human spirit wants uplifting and so when I think of a time when that was happening, it was under the adverse conditions of WWII. Winston Churchill gave a speech whereby he took the fall of France, Holland and Belgium and noted that when history looked back on England, they would call England’s resistance to Hitler its “finest hour”. It was a brilliant speech and it clearly dismissed the moment for the glory of what Britain could and would be. Churchill was ignoring the facts and calling upon the future.
The English cabinetmaking trade at the end of the 18th century was not bereft of great cabinetmaking firms. However, the demand placed on the trade by the new middle class was calling for a different business approach, one which understood this demand. Some of the larger firms like Seddon and Gillow produced furniture of different levels of sophistication. No doubt, however, the LLN was debasing the standards of the trade by the vast opportunities that were opening up from this new demand. The standards within the trade, where it most mattered, were in decline.
The problem then is that the LLN, i.e. the burgeoning world population, is having a deletorious affect on standards of all kinds. Poor products are being made that elude detection, think salmonella in eggs and Chinese sheet rock and cat food. Churchill’s rhetoric resonates as spiritual and it is a path taken by some societies to deal with the LLN and the subsequent decline in standards. In truth, however, it is only each and every individual that can confront a descent into mediocrity. The only tool that each individual can have is education. In the end, it is our greatest challenge.