People, in a free society, create wealth. We are, in fact, the source of wealth. Which is an astonishing thing, when one comes to think about it. After so-called scholars from Malthus to Paul Ehrlich, and world-changing dictators from Stalin to Hitler all understood that wealth is a function of natural wealth divided between the number of people. As such, the more natural resources there are per person, the richer the society should be.
The facts are very much otherwise. The richest places on earth are cities like New York and Amsterdam and Singapore and Hong Kong: places with virtually no natural wealth, but considerable wealth in people. Indeed, the richest states in the union have the highest concentrations of humanity (at least in the populated areas): DC, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts… even California makes the Top 10 list, even though all of these places have been dominantly governed by Democrats pushing anti-business policies for decades. Why? Because they have people. And people are the greatest source of wealth that exists in the world.
I think the reason why this is so defies many of the common answers: more specialization, for example, is surely a good thing – but it does not really answer the question. I think, instead, that there is almost a spiritual energy contained within highly populated societies. This sounds almost kooky, but it still seems that way to me. Interacting with large numbers of other people keeps us mentally spry and agile. Economic wealth is one way to measure the result, but we can also see it when we see how creative cultural beacons, from orchestras to solo artists, also coalesce in dense urban centers.
When people are more reclusive, parts of their minds start to atrophy. I think this helps explain why people from cities talk and drive and indeed think more quickly.
All of this is hard for me to admit, because I am not a city dweller, not really. I cannot handle Manhattan. I fear groups of people. I shut down in cocktail parties and receptions. But I cannot but admit that these sorts of settings are highly productive.
Postulated: Online communities are reasonable facsimiles for cities in many respects. And in terms of intellectual depth and breadth, online communities can be far deeper, broader, and more versatile than any one physical location.