Friday, August 01, 2014

Let's Build a Cathedral

Yes, I've been to the United Kingdom and noticed the churches over there. Absolutely magnificent. You could go to the United Kingdom (and I suspect much of Europe) and do nothing but tour churches. They are simply breathtaking.

The thing that really struck me was the stone. How did they ever quarry so much stone, transport it and stack it so high? That really hit me in Chester. The Romans built it. There's a stone wall, 20-30 feet high, that runs 2 miles around the city. These walls aren't made of rubble -- they're cut stone. How in the world did they do this so long ago? With ropes and pulleys, levers and sweat? And how did they afford it all?

The rich guys back then must have really been rich. The stone work is amazing in a brutal way but when you move into the cathedral, the artwork will leave you in awe. Everything is chiseled, carved and decorated. Tapestries. Paintings. Sculptures in wood, stone and metal. The wood carvings. Forests of carved wood. It's unreal. I guess when you're as rich as a King, you can afford these things.

And then it hit me -- what makes a King rich? Actually, that's the wrong avenue of thinking to take. You can suss it out on your own but let's just skip to the end and say "taxes" make a King rich. The King gets a little (or a lot) of everything that people create. It adds up in a hurry. If Facebook only made a dollar a month off of all their subscribers that'd be $500 million a month. I'm pretty sure you could build a cathedral with that. You and I could scarcely dream of spending 3 trillion a year.

The correct way to think about this is not how much it costs but how much will it takes to get it done. The Romans built the fortress. The English built the cathedral. It can physically be done. Certainly with the tools at our disposal we could build even greater things. But we don't. Why?

Again, it isn't the cost. It's the will. Think about the size of the population that built these things. They're tiny in comparison to us. Any average-sized city in America could build a cathedral. All it would take would be the political will to say, "We are going to pay the taxes that will support 500 workers for 50 years in order to build this thing."

That's an interesting dynamic to think about isn't it? Could you imagine anybody in America thinking that they were going to work on one project for 50 years? Yes, that is a life time. Add to that the idea that you were going to spend your entire working life on something that was going to last a thousand years. And you weren't going to use the cheapest materials -- you were going to use the best. How would an idea like that transform America?

The trick is, instead of one man (the King) having the political will to see such a project through, in a democracy you'd have to generate the political will from several thousand voters. Or a few million.

The Romans built a fortress. The English built a cathedral. Americans went to the Moon. What should America do next? What would your cathedral be? Pick something. Anything is better than listening to the fools that tell us we can't afford to do anything except watch it all crumble into dust.

Don Brown
August 1, 2014

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