The past three years did quite a number on my once-high optimism about the future. The eagerness and ease with which governments locked us down, combined with the accompanying monetary and fiscal incontinence, cannot help but dampen the spirits of anyone who cherishes an open, liberal society. These spirits were only further lowered by the recent bulging of wokism into a mad cultural monster.
But when I take a few deep breaths, divert my eyes and ears from the media, and observe the daily goings-on around me, I find reason to resist my pessimism.
I recently had some significant work done on my home, mostly bathrooms remodeled and hardwood floors replaced. Much of my time since mid-January was spent shopping for items such as faucets, showerheads, toilets, tiling, and flooring that are available on the market.
The vastness of the assortment of these items floored me, no pun intended. I’m tempted to say that the size of the assortment was overwhelming, but I actually felt empowered by it. When I found, for example, a bathroom faucet that fit my budget and looked excellent in all other dimensions, I discovered that if I continued my search I almost always found an even better faucet, one more suitable to my tastes without being less suitable to my budget. Ditto for toilets, countertops, vanities, mirrors, flooring options, and the several other items that were used in the remodeling.
Eventually, final selections were made. Most items were ordered online and delivered to my home within 24 to 72 hours, including a small bathroom-vanity mirror made in – and shipped from – earthquake-ravaged Turkey. My contractor, Essam (an immigrant from Egypt) and his crew (immigrants from Latin America) accomplished in a matter of weeks what I couldn’t have accomplished in a lifetime, namely a total transformation of my bathrooms and floors from their previous shabby and relatively inconvenient selves into new beauties.
Essam’s skills at organizing his crew’s daily work tasks, and the particular skills of each of these workers, are admirable. Equally admirable is their work effort. Essam and his crew work diligently and hard. Such workers produce, and they do so honestly. Essam proved true to his word on his fees and on the quality of the final results. And although on several occasions I was not at home while the workers remained inside toiling (and tiling!), not once did I worry about theft or reckless destruction.
That the American workforce is still populated by many such people, both native-born and immigrant, is cause for celebration.
I was encouraged also by the innovativeness that is evidenced in each and every one of the available products. Each faucet, each showerhead, and each toilet has features that either were unavailable ten or twenty years ago, or affordable only by the superrich. In all cases, innovative people were motivated to conceive of design improvements, while others were motivated to figure out how to produce the new’n’improved products at costs as low as possible.
Other than Essam and his crew, I know none of the countless individuals whose creativity and efforts are now on display in my home. Nor do they know me. Yet those fruits are succulent and real and affordable by someone who is decidedly, by modern American standards, not close to being superrich.
Entrepreneurial innovativeness is evident also in the retailing of the products that I bought for my remodeling project. As mentioned, most of my shopping was done online – meaning here, from the comfort of my living-room couch. And for many of these products there was an online option – free of charge – of surveying them from 360 degrees. A few easy finger movements on my touchpad did the trick. Each of these products appeared on my two-dimensional laptop screen very much as if I were holding it in my hand in three-dimensional real space. Some innovative souls, by making this online feature available, made shopping much easier and less worrisome.
Ease of shopping was furthered by the smoothness of online payment. My computer (or some cyber spirit) somehow knows, as soon as I go to the payments page, the number of the credit card that I normally use. To verify that it’s really me who is using the card to purchase this toilet or that bathroom mirror, I merely put my right index finger on a small ‘button’ on my MacBook Air that then instantly reads and confirms my fingerprint.
Usually within a day or two, the purchased product is delivered to my front door, at which time I receive a text message alerting me to the delivery. And if, as happened more than once, the item that I ordered turned out not to be optimal, returning it either for a refund or a replacement was, in every instance, surprisingly quick and easy. (Thank you, Home Depot and Floor & Decor!)
I could spend several thousand more words describing in admiring tones the innovative and affordable products and procedures that I took advantage of for my remodeling project. But by now you get the picture. Reflecting on the amount of human creativity and effort that came to my assistance for this project is a source of amazement and optimism. Entrepreneurs continue to innovate. Workers continue to work. The trust that undergirds complex market economies such as ours continues to facilitate commerce. As long as our economy is marked by sufficient entrepreneurial gumption and a bourgeois work effort and commercial ethic, there is hope.
How much, though, of this innovativeness and commercial ethic is ‘sufficient’?
As I see matters, a major battle now underway in our society pits the bourgeois spirit of entrepreneurial capitalism against the antediluvian superstitions, anxieties, and animosities of collectivism. If the bourgeois spirit is stronger and more resilient than is the destructive nature of collectivism, our modern market civilization will endure in ‘pretty good’ (although of course not ideal) fashion. But if the collectivist superstitions, anxieties, and animosities now on the rise continue their horrifying ascent, they will eventually overwhelm and annihilate this bourgeois spirit. And when they do, they’ll suck from our social atmosphere the oxygen of entrepreneurship and commerce upon which our civilization depends.
The happy reality that entrepreneurship and bourgeois commerce continue to flourish was driven home to me by my rather unremarkable remodeling project. I have reason for optimism. Yet this optimism, nevertheless, is guarded, because the forces arrayed against the liberal market order are today also thriving.