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On My Way Into Work

Coming into to work this morning I was overwhelmed by the following thought: how much of what I was taking part in during the commute could I actually have done and enjoyed if I had to produce it myself? The answer should be obvious, but in case it is not, let me remind you what I experienced from the time I walked from the foyer in my home to the foyer in my office.

It was a rainy day, so I donned a synthetic and lightweight rain-proof jacket from my hall closet. In that closet my jacket was suspended from a molded plastic hanger and I was able to see it by tugging a thin white string, enabling a light-bulb to begin burning. I then hit a button which enabled a 200 pound wooden garage door to lift along metal rails with no effort of my own. I then got into my Mazda 3, turned on the internal combustion engine with the turn of a key, turned on a cournout engine running in reverse (i.e. an air conditioner) with the turn of another switch, turned on an instrument which receives electromagnetic signals from some far off place and converts them into pleasant sounds right there in my car (i.e. my stereo), then I plugged my iPod into the cigarette lighter (a neat invention itself) and used it to power the device, I tuned a little wire connected to my iPod so that it sent its own electromagnetic signal out, subsequently picked up by my car radio, and listened to a playlist of folk and acoustic music from artists living all around the world spannnig 4 decades of time, … I stopped at Tim Horton’s for a medium coffee with cream, sugar and french vanilla (OK, so I am a bit of a coffee prima donna) and a 12-grain bagel with cream cheese (not toasted), which I took with me on the road. Following an array of traffic lights, street signs, and road paint I made my way to my office where I sit and write this e-mail with a Nalgene bottle full of water and  fan blowing cool air on me.

There is not even one small, miniscule part of any one of the things that I did for a mere 30 minute portion of a random day in my life that I could have produced on my own. Such is the power of specialization and the division of labor. And such miracles are utterly and completely ignored by people when they promote the creation of “green jobs,” wish to protect American jobs, wish to force buy local lifestyles on people, and otherwise misunderstand the sources of wealth creation. The most ludicrious social science question in history is to ask, “Why is there poverty?” Poverty is the natural state of mankind – as Adam Smith rightly inquired, the correct and profound question is, “Why is there wealth?” To reflect on just a few of the things you do in the course of even your most “ordinary” day will yield very deep insights into that question.

3 Responses to “On My Way Into Work”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    Insightful, and well-stated!

  2. jb says:

    I have often had the same thought, in particular, getting to work 25 miles away, in a blizzard, from my bed to my desk, with hardly a snowflake falling on my back.

    It occurs to me that to many of my economist friends, we are all RICH. That is a relative term; economists tend to view our wealth relative to that of our ancestors. By that measure, the poorest Americans today are arguably wealthier than JP Morgan ever was (did he have A/C, internet, Travel cross country in a few hours for a tiny fraction of his income?).

    To my friends on the left, however, only a few people qualify as being RICH, because they compare wealth relative to other citizens, contemporaneously. (By that measure, Jesus was certainly right when he said, “you will always have the poor among you!” or words to that effect).

    So we live in a world in which we are all growing richer through voluntary transactions, but some have more than others (and tremendous income mobility rotates the chairs constantly). But that’s not good enough for my lefty friends, they see what others have, and instead of being inspired, they grow bitter with envy,and demand redistribution by majority rule. And yet it is THEY who whine endlessly about “greed.”

  3. Speedmaster says:

    But wait, I just thought … how many of things were produced “locally?!” How dare you consume anything not produced locally! 😉

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