“The man who sips his morning coffee does not say, ‘Capitalism has brought this beverage to my breakfast table.’ But when he reads in the papers that the government of Brazil has ordered part of the coffee crop destroyed, he does not say, ‘That is government for you’: he exclaims ‘That is capitalism for you.’” —Ludwig von Mises, “Interventionism”
“The careless soul receives the Father’s gifts as if it were a way things had of dropping into his hand … For the good that comes to him, he gives no thanks — who is there to thank? At the disappointments that befall him he grumbles — there must be someone to blame!” —George MacDonald, “Unspoken Sermons”
In the first quote above, the brilliant thinker who destroyed Freidrich Hayek’s faith in socialism discusses the non-thinking person’s attitude toward providence. His morning coffee is there because things simply have a way of dropping into his hand. That the coffee which drops into his hand is the very nearly miraculous gift of the free market, of the efforts of countless people cooperating over great distances and spans of time, he overlooks.
In the second quote, the man who brought C.S. Lewis to Christian faith discusses the non-thinking person’s attitude toward Providence. The logic of the two quotes is precisely parallel, as is the illogic of the two non-thinkers.
If, as a sophisticated modern person, you are not interested in thinking about Providence, and especially if you are no friend of the free market, please for a moment at least entertain the possibility that a deep truth about human nature is here revealed. There is a direct connection between shallow thinking, ingratitude, and recourse to blame.
The coffee drinker neglects to thank those who bless his table with coffee. Instead, when the government intervenes he blames the coordinated effort of the people who bring his coffee to him — for that is all the free market is — instead of blaming the government. If, on the other hand, you are a believer, you may want to consider how the free market is a gift of our human nature, and therefore ultimately a part of the Creator’s design.
In any case, the pattern of shallow thinking, ingratitude, and misdirected blame is familiar to us all, believer and nonbeliever alike. The story we have all heard of the boy who leaves home blaming his parents and who later, when he becomes a father, comes to understand their struggle to raise him and forgives his own child’s lack of gratitude shines a light into this obscure recess of human nature.
The free market took off at about the time the American experiment in liberty got going. Before that time, life for virtually everyone was like a bad dream they could not wake up from. People lived tired, dirty, hungry, downtrodden, and at the mercy of their circumstances.
You don’t have to trace very far back in your family line to reach a time when your own people would have found the ease, affluence, and expansiveness of the life you lead totally astonishing. Would they also be astonished by your lack of gratitude for what the free market has given you? Or would they find you celebrating the free market and the gifts it provides?
By the way, it is not a coincidence that the free market and the American experiment in liberty achieved lift off around the same time. Here is Ludwig von Mises again: “The social order created by the philosophy of the Enlightenment assigned supremacy to the common man. In his capacity as a consumer, the ‘regular fellow’ was called upon to determine ultimately what should be produced, in what quantity, and of what quality, by whom, how, and where; in his capacity as a voter, he was sovereign in directing the nation’s policies.”
In the twentieth century, there were three great attempts in the West to replace the social order created by the Enlightenment. Each was an attempt to put the government back in charge. The Germans and the Italians tried national socialism; the Russians and the Chinese tried Communism. Both systems brought ruin and catastrophe.
The third version, the American one, called itself Progressivism. The Progressives realized the American people were not ripe for the kind of revolutionary upheaval that had worked in Germany or Russia. Consequently, their plan was to introduce government control of the American people little by little, progressively.
You have to give them credit: They have made remarkable “progress.” Today, in moments of candor, they come right out and state that they intend to regulate every aspect of people’s lives. That is, of course, precisely what the Nazis and the rulers of the U.S.S.R. aimed for. Is regulating every aspect of people’s lives going to work any better this time simply because it is being introduced step-by-step instead of suddenly?
By failing to appreciate the free market’s gift of prosperity and by failing to appreciate the American founders’ gift of liberty, we put ourselves in jeopardy. We risk losing our inheritance by cooperating with those who want to take it from us.