This has been puzzling me. Maybe you can help me work it out….
I’m not even going to touch on the conspiracy theories or give any opinion on the character or behaviour of either of the protagonists here, because that’s not what interests me. What I want to figure out is the part money plays in the story. (Also I know it is far more complicated than I’m making it. I just want to solve my puzzle.)
Once upon a time there were two men (as I understand the story) who were developing electricity in amazing new ways, so that it would be available to all.
One was called Thomas Edison. He was a smart, hard-headed businessman as well as a brilliant innovator. He needed investors in order to develop his amazing stuff.
The other was called Nikola Tesla. He was clueless with money and no good at working with people but also a brilliant innovator. He too needed investors, for exactly the same reason.
Edison wanted to develop a business empire, selling electricity and electrical products to people.
Tesla wanted to develop free electricity, so that no one would have to buy it ever again. He’d worked out a way of doing that.
So let’s imagine you were an astute investor, back then, with lots of money in your pocket. Which of these men would you invest in?
It’s not a hard choice to make, is it? Edison wins hands down, because his investors will get great returns as everyone clamours to buy his products. Tesla doesn’t stand a chance. You invest in his company and you get free electricity forever – but so do all the other people: the ones who didn’t invest anything. There’s no profit to be had in something that is free.
That means the world is stuck with power stations that run on fossil fuels or nuclear power, and we are all still having to pay for our power – as is the planet.
Now let’s imagine an alternative universe in which the investors all went for Tesla’s ideas.
No one owns electricity. It’s as free as the air we breathe, even in places where people struggle to survive. There are no bunkers full of nuclear waste that can’t be safely disposed of, no pollution in the seas around Japan, no coal or oil-fired power stations belching out fumes. Suddenly electricity is not a commodity. It isn’t bought and sold. You can’t own shares in it. You can’t wage wars over the fossil fuels to power it or build pipelines where you shouldn’t. It’s simply energy, like a thunderstorm or a forest fire.
We live in different times now. What if crowdfunding had existed back then? Ordinary people hand over their money to pay for some kid’s operation or to refurbish a hostel they will never see. In my tiny country £46.6 million was raised in one night last week for Children In Need. Billionaire stars turn philanthropist and give away their fortunes.
If Tesla were here now, asking for investors, would he find them?
So this is my puzzle:
Have we changed, in those few short years since Edison won his battle?
Is the pursuit of money, ever so slightly, losing it’s grip?
Are we treating it more, now, like energy, allowing it to flow freely rather than stockpiling it and having to make a profit from it? And if we use it that way, how might our world change?