A few days ago you all were speculating about which fictional objects you might wish to own. I was struck by how the more extravagant answers seemed to fail, and partly because of what my early teacher Ludwig Lachmann called “the complementarity of capital.”
Say you had a time machine to visit the past. Sounds like fun, right? But consider the violence in earlier eras, trying to understand their languages, or avoiding nasty germs and infections. How can you return to the current day without a risk of bringing back a plague that will kill many people? Markets have not provided the complementary goods to make these trips work.
How about a pen that creates any object you might try to draw with it? Expect a knock on the door from McLean, or if you are less lucky some polonium in your Product 19. I wonder for how long you could keep such a device secret, and do you always know when there is CCTV? I wonder for how long you could stay alive.
A transporter might kill you through the act of copying you, but that aside how would you know you are not putting yourself into moving traffic or a lake? What kind of monitoring stations do you hope to make use of? How many cultures would attack the arriving visitor for witchcraft? Maybe there is a way to plop down in open fields only, but at that point you might wish to consider a business class ticket along with checked bag.
Even owning something as simple as the Mona Lisa would be problematic. You would have to protect it and install climate control — who is going to pay for that? How might they rezone your house? Or would you never ever tell anyone, and thus keep all your friends at a distance? For what gain, ultimately?
Having one extra thing is devilishly hard to make extremely valuable, even if you are allowed to invent something that doesn’t exist or violate the physical laws of our universe. The real gains in this world are from cooperation and networks of support, and having something unique doesn’t much plug you into those. In other words, trying to bypass market evolution isn’t nearly as powerful as you might think.