Count Your Blessings
Gary North’s REALITY CHECK
September 10, 2004
I challenge you to a contest.
I’m working on a high school home school curriculum. I want to produce a list of blessings that the West has enjoyed. Then I plan to show them how most of these blessings have come from free market capitalism.
I have prepared a list of blessings that are enjoyed by residents of capitalist societies, but especially countries in which English is most people’s first language. Read my list. See what I’ve left out. Then compile a list of your own.
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
The industrial revolution began in Great Britain sometime after 1750 but before 1800. Historians disagree about how this happened, just as they disagree about how everything else has happened. But the fact that it did happen, and happened first in Great Britain, is undisputed.
Children grow up accepting their blessings as part of their environment. They give little thought to this. They assume their environment’s existence, even when it is something analogous to a miracle. I want to go from what is common to what has not been common that made it possible: liberty.
Think of the light switch and all that it represents., Think of all that came together to make it possible. Electricity has done more to equalize the races and the sexes than all the equal opportunity legislation ever has.
Half a century ago, before rock & roll took over the airwaves, there was a hit song, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” It was a sappy sing. Yet I can still remember the opening lines:
When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep.
Then I fall asleep, counting my blessings.
It was written by the most successful of all popular music writers, Irving Berlin, who surely had a lot of blessings to count, including living to age 101.
Today, Prozac is the drug of choice for tens of millions of Americans. Psychological depression has become a pandemic. Yet we live in a world that is so much more physically comfortable and so much more productive than the one in which I grew up, let alone when my parents grew up.
Our bodies are pampered by our economic environment. We pay for this with our stomachs.
Something is seriously wrong. But it’s not the economy.
Every once in a while, we need a reality check. This issue of “Reality Check” is a reality check: an inventory of blessings that even the Federal government has been unable to take away, despite its efforts to make things better for us by removing our liberties, one by one. (On this freedom-hijacking process, read any book by James Bovard.)
So, let’s go through a list of blessings. We tend to assume that they are normal. They are abnormal beyond all human forecasts, 1750 or earlier.
Infant mortality is low. Children usually bury their parents. Two centuries ago, the mortality rate was 50%, except in North America: half would die before adulthood.
We are approaching age 80 as the life expectancy at birth. Women live longer than men, but life expectancy for both sexes is rising.
Medical technology for operations is improving constantly.
We can still select our own physicians in the United States.
Alternative health care is plentiful.
Soap is cheap.
Refrigeration is cheap. Food doesn’t spoil.
Food is cheap, especially the basics that keep us alive.
Famines don’t happen, except in war-torn sub-Sahara Africa.
Economic growth means that we can accomplish more with whatever amount of money or assets that we possess.
Economic growth compounds in the West at about 2.5% per annum. At 2.5%, wealth doubles every 29 years. Over a 250-year period, this means over a 250-fold increase. Then, 29 years later, a 500-fold increase. Then, 29 years later, a 1000-fold increase. Wealth gets big, fast, as time passes.
We live better than our parents did. They lived better than their parents did.
As more societies adopt capitalism, the division of labor increases, increasing productivity.
The whole world is now adopting capitalism.
People can remain productive longer than ever before.
Tools make our work either easier or more productive.
Phone calls are cheap, and getting cheaper. On the Web, they are free (www.skype.com).
Email is free.
Computers talk to each other cheap, lowering all costs.
Cell phones are almost universal. This took 15 years.
The Internet lets anyone become a publisher.
The Web is a 4 billion-page free encyclopedia.
Google lets us find what we are looking for (usually).
Politicians can’t hide anything for very long.
Political resistance is cheaper than ever.
Private education is spreading: home schools, day schools.
CD-ROM technology lets anyone become a curriculum publisher.
Library catalogues are easily accessed by anyone on-line.
Walk into any university library, free, and access all the books in the library, plus the college-students-only Internet library of journals, which is huge. In 1850, a large college library was 20,000 books. A typical university library today is 500,000 volumes. Harvard has 13 million.
The Web makes distance education easy, which makes earning a college degree much cheaper. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has put its courses on-line, free of charge. (http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html) This is the wave of the future.
Books are cheap and available everywhere, including Amazon.
Publications are highly specialized, for every profession.
English is becoming the world’s second language. English is the premier language of business, finance, and scholarship. This is great for consumers who speak English.
Plane fares keep falling as competition increases.
Cars are universal. Poor people can afford used cars.
The highway system is huge.
U-Haul and its competitors have wiped out the moving van oligopoly.
People can afford to move to places with greater opportunity.
The cost of delivering goods is falling. This lowers prices: the Wal-Mart phenomenon.
More square feet per home each generation.
Separate bedrooms are universal.
Indoor plumbing is universal.
Mortgages are common: wider home ownership.
Bug-free housing, almost.
Heating with fuel makes wood-chopping obsolete.
Air conditioning has made Phoenix larger than Philadelphia.
Mass production of housing has made suburbs possible: housing comfort available only to the rich in 1850. Most people have a lawn and flowers: the unfulfilled dream of slum dwellers, which were most people, in 1850.
Electricity has delivered most of us from physically hard labor.
Clean water is cheap and abundant.
Water-spread diseases have disappeared.
Population growth is now possible.
Human labor is the most versatile factor of production. The problem has been to finance specialization.
Specialization today is extensive and increasing through capital investment. Each person can match his skills with consumer demand. Each person can thereby increase his output.
Guilds are limited mainly to the professions. Just about anyone can get the training he needs to enter any occupation that he has the skills to perform.
Entry-level jobs are plentiful.
Unemployment is low, especially for married men. If you want to work, there is a job.
Crummy jobs are stepping stones, not brick walls.
There is demand for work done well, on time, at the price agreed on.
Racial discrimination can be offset by the willingness to work cheaper, faster, and better.
Thrift is constantly providing new tools.
New tools increase workers’ production.
Air conditioning makes siesta societies more productive.
Electric lights make the work day longer for businesses but shorter for workers: Henry Ford’s 8-hour shifts, 3 shifts/day.
Wages rise when opportunities increase.
Americans live by eight words:
Live and let live.
Let’s make a deal.
It is still possible for anyone to start a small business in one day in the United States.
It is still possible to get rich by running your own business.
The number of new businesses started each year is rising.
Most of them will fail, but most of their owners will start another one.
Discrimination is falling because opportunities to serve consumers is increasing. Everyone is looking for a better deal, which was once called the Jewish brother-in-law deal, itself testifying to opportunities for minority groups.
Word processing eliminates erasers, and a lot of fear of making a mistake.
Quicken lets us keep track of where our money goes.
Quick Books lets us run a medium-size business, or even larger. It costs $200.
Spreadsheets make possible work that only Harvard Business School types could do in 1975. (VisiCalc was invented for the Apple I computer by a Harvard Business School student, who needed a way to speed up classroom calculations.)
Data base programs let small businesses compete. Order Desk Pro let my secretary run a $500,000 a year non-profit publishing organization in 1995 that had cost $250 a month to hire a specialist to run in 1985. Order Desk Pro cost under $300 at the time. (www.odpro.com)
Computer games amuse millions of people.
Stereos are cheap. So are CD’s. So are downloaded music files.
We can listen to music that only the rich could afford to hear a century ago. We can listen at any time, day or night.
Television amuses us.
Cable and satellite channels have broken the network oligopoly. The networks are losing market share.
We can watch old movies any time.
A video player that cost $1,000 in 1980 — $2,000 in today’s money — costs under $80.
A 6-hour videotape that cost $20 in 1980 — $40 in today’s money — costs under $1.
We can shoot cheap videos of our children. We and they will not forget. (But there will be more videos of the first child.)
EVERY MAN A KING
What did a powerful king have in 1700 that you don’t have? (I don’t mean syphilis.)
What do can you buy that a king would have paid half his kingdom to buy? (See the first entry, above.)
New, expensive products for the rich find new markets. Price competition then widens the market for successful products.
Price competition creates mass markets for a product line. Then product improvement creates specialized niche markets. Opportunities increase.
The lifestyle of the very rich, except for three things, is essentially the same as the lifestyle of the middle class. The exceptions are: (1) full-time employees to run errands and wait on them; (2) enough land to keep their homes invisible to the public; (3) no personal debt.
In the next issue, I will provide an email address where you can send a list of anything I have forgotten. I would provide it this time, except for one snag: I can’t access my on-line account. “Your name or password are incorrect.” The support staff has not yet come to work.
I am sure I have left out a lot of important items, and probably categories.
Think about this. Get a list together. Be ready to send it to me next Tuesday.
Remember my goal: to teach high school students the blessings of liberty. I will use the final list to catch their attention. Then I will tell the story of how we got where we are.”