Sunday, April 6, 2008

Amazed and Grateful, All Summer Long

I play a lot of miniature golf. The only club I own is a putter, which I bought at a thrift store for $2, along with two golf balls I found in a field. I practice by knocking the balls around my living room.

And when I go to play I drive my 2000 Chevy Cavalier with air-conditioning, power steering, and an AM/FM stereo radio with a cassette player (no CD player yet, unfortunately). I listen to tapes of Lassie saving a baby from a one-eyed cat. Or Boris Karloff bricking up his wife in the basement.

I don't have a clue how sounds are put on tape, or how air-conditioning works, or how a golf ball is made, or my tie-dyed seat-covers for that matter, but I do know that none of it would exist without the liberty and the free market that have existed for the last few hundred years. That putter, those golf balls, my car and those tapes are the end result of the inventions and labor of millions of people, for hundreds of years. I even play at night, because of those mysterious things called light bulbs and electricity.

Go out in the woods sometime, at night. You'll understand why our ancestors were so frightened. You can't even see your hand in front of your face. A grizzly bear could be two feet away and you wouldn't know he was there. A flashlight and batteries probably would have been worth their weight in gold, not to mention a high-capacity .40 caliber handgun loaded with hollowpoints.

And a few hundred years ago, I guarantee you my mule would have died long before it had 235,000 miles on it.

Leonard Read understood the miracle of the free market when he wrote his classic, "I, Pencil." How many people does it take to make one simple pencil? Who knows, really? Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands. The knowledge required is beyond any one man. How many people really know how they get that stick of graphite in the wood? I sure don't. I don't know anyone who does.

In a way, the fact that the free market produces what it does is a kind of a miracle. Only the free market can produce what we have; the State cannot. The State has probably set us back a few thousand years. I am not grateful for the damage it has done to us. But for liberty and the free market, I am, in a way, not only grateful, but amazed.

The free market cannot fulfill you spiritually or give meaning to your life. That's one of the reasons socialists despise it, thinking instead their view of everyone as a bee in a hive (what they call "community") will give purpose to people's lives. Hardly.

Still, I really do consider the free market a kind of miracle. I marvel at what it has given us. I turn a tap and water comes gushing out. Perhaps it's not the best water in the world, which is why I have a filter on the tap, but it's better than drinking from some supposed pristine stream that even hundreds of years ago might have caused me to permanently keel over. Than we have the fact the word "drought" is something no one in America has ever experienced. Today, water is even free at public fountains. Astonishing.

I can buy just about any kind of food I want, at rather cheap prices. I grow nothing, except plants in my window that wilt and apologetically die. I walk in a store and there are shelves and shelves of almost anything you can think of. And to imagine a few thousand years ago people saw Heaven as a land of milk and honey. Not only does the word "drought" mean nothing to us, neither does the word "famine."

Compared to even a hundred years ago, we are in heaven. Imagine life without air-conditioning. Or dentistry. Or basic sanitation, like baths and toilets. You can laugh at Thomas Crapper all you wish, but his inventing the toilet probably saved more lives than every vaccine created.

We take what we have for granted, and want more. Perhaps I was like that at one time. I whine, somewhat jokingly, that I want my flying car so I can go to the moon. I don't have it yet, but a few days ago I drove 400 miles in less than eight hours. Try doing that 100 years ago. They'd goggle, open-mouthed, at what we don't even think about. I now understand the saying, "Enough is as good as a feast."

In a sense I feel as if I am stuck in a permanent summer vacation. I don't work 12 hours a day, six days a week, living in poverty in a hovel with barely enough to eat and drink before dying toothless at age 40. I work 40 hours a week, with two days off. I feel like I'm in a Beach Boys' song: "Miniature golf and Hondas in the hills. . .we've been having fun all summer long."

To me the whole thing is a miracle, a marvel and a mystery. That's why I'm amazed and grateful. And they're not bad feelings, not at all.

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