I had a thought-provoking conversation this past weekend with an aquaintance who consults for a medical device company. He was embarrassed to discuss the device, and ashamed of its primarily cosmetic use. The device uses radio wave energy to stimulate collagen growth in the tissue between the vagina and rectum--firming things up, so to speak. It's current market is in the U.S. as a cosmetic device. But it turns out this same technology can be used to halt excessive uterine bleeding and allows the procedure to be performed without need of sedation or the usual operating room requirements for sterility-- creating huge cost savings! This means that potentially life-saving therapy will be affordable for a greater number of individuals, and in particular, will be much easier to implement in poor and developing countries.
What my acquaintance failed to connect is that most, if not all, new technologies are expensive at first--which means the clientele will be rich, and the initial application may seem frivioulous or superfluous. One hundred years ago, cars were a luxury that only the rich could afford. They weren't even reliable enough to serve for useful transportation. Thirty years ago, pocket calculators could only add, subtract, multiply and divide, and cost over $100 dollars. It too was considered a rich man's toy. Twenty years ago, only doctors and a select few others, sported pagers on their belts. A bit later "mobile phones" appeared, a luxury solely for the rich and powerful elite. Now, cars are ubiquitous. Pocket calculators perform numerous mathematical functions and cost under $5. Cell phones have made connection to the wider world available to African businesses in places that landlines will not be economically feasible for decades, if ever.
By letting the market satisfy the seemingly frivolous and unnecessary desires of the rich, we all end up better off. The rich are the ones with the wealth to spare--so let them purchase the new, expensive "luxuries" and pay the way for our increasing standard of living! Eventually, increased demand and free market competition will bring down cost and increase availability. There's nothing shameful about that.
For all of us to gain, the rich too must be free: free to use their wealth to pursue their happiness.
Attempts at enforced equality will stifle innovation, keep costs high, and in the long run we all are impoverished.
As long as poverty is the problem, wealth will be the solution. Wealth--and the freedom to use it.