An individual or a group of individuals might of course decide at any time that they would like to invest capital with the objective of acquiring still more capital. But, before a certain moment in historical time, it had never been easy for such individuals to do this successfully.
What is surprising is that their ideological opponents, the Marxists - the anti-liberals, the representatives of the oppressed working classes - believed in progress with at least as much passion as the liberals.
The second reason why we haven't observed the growing gap is that our historical and social science analyses have concentrated on what has been happening within the 'middle classes' - that is, to that ten to fifteen percent of the population of the world-economy who consumed more surplus than they themselves produced. Within this sector there really has been a relatively dramatic flattening of the curve between the very top (less than one percent of the total population) and the truly 'middle' segments, or cadres (the rest of the ten to fifteen percent).
The mode of reconciling the promise of ever-increasing reward for the cadres and the demands of the working classes for a quid pro quo for their loyalty to the state was to offer the latter a small piece of the pie.
Truth as a cultural ideal has functioned as an opiate, perhaps the only serious opiate of the modern world. Karl Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Raymond Aron retorted that Marxist ideas were in turn the opiate of the intellectuals. There is perspicacity in both these polemical thrusts. But is perspicacity truth? I wish to suggest that perhaps truth has been the real opiate, of both the masses and the intellectuals.
What distinguishes the historical social system we are calling historical capitalism is that in this historical system capital came to be used (invested) in a very special way. It came to be used with the primary objective or intent of self-expansion. In this system, past accumulations were 'capital' only to the extend they were used to accumulate more of the same.
The first and probably most fundamental aspect of this crisis is that we are now close to the commodification of everything. That is, historical capitalism is in crisis precisely because, in pursuing the endless accumulation of capital, it is beginning to approximate that state of being Adam Smith asserted was 'natural' to man but which has never historically existed. The 'propensity [of humanity] to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another' has entered into domains and zones previously untouched, and the pressure to expand commodification is relatively unchecked.
The basic question that the 'new science' raises for our balance sheet is the issue of what scientific questions have not been asked for 500 years, which scientific risks have not been pursued. It raises the question of who has decided what scientific risks were worth taking, and what have been the consequences in terms of the power structures of the world.