"Looking back through history, I see no evidence for humanity making the best of things, and I think it's a pretty safe bet that's an on-going trend."
In this part in the story, the Traders are trying to get their goods into "closed" planets; that is, planets whose rulers are suspicious of technology that is backed by the Foundation.
This item is interesting not just because a force-field "blade" could never bend back and cut your fingers. The force-field penknife is arguably the first reference to a cutting blade made of energy; it may be the inspiration for the lightsaber of Star Wars fame. The planet Coruscant, the central planet for the Empire, was certainly inspired by Trantor, the center of government in the first Foundation book. So Lucas had read the book.
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