As we barrel down on 4 July, we need to give ourselves a reprieve from all the sordid news of the day, all the sordid newsmakers, and all the sordid news presenters. We need some good stuff, like the following.
I am so fortunate that there is a "Mike's place" where I live. I am twelve thumbs and two left feet when it comes to small engine repair, and my lawn-servicing machine crapped out on me. Mike took it in, as he does at least once annually, spent a long time in diagnostics, and then charged me $60 to make it work. Mike's place made me start thinking.
I have traded with Mike for 10 years, but I do not know Mike beyond being a customer, nor does he know me. He is a man of few words, and fewer words yet if not directly related to the reason for coming in. In his shop, he has small engine trimmers, chain saws, lawn equipment, and maybe enough small engine machines in various states of age, disassembly, and repair to outfit about everyone in my small town.
He may be a man of few words, but I sense not one whit of guile in the man. He is a cards-on-the-table, tell-it-like-it-is, and the devil take the hindmost kind of guy. He runs a small staff, from very young men to men well past their prime. All of these men project seriousness about their work and themselves, not to mention projecting competence.
Mike's place is in an industrial park made up of "tin" sheds stretched the length of a city block. Each has an oversized garage style pull up door. Mike's place is the exception with an actual glass door along with a couple of pull-ups. His neighbors are as busy as he is. The neighborhood is not quiet; pickups, bigger trucks, and a few cars come and go all the time. Every neighbor is at work, either repairing or building something. For example, his next-door neighbor works in urethane—don't ask me what beyond that, however.
Mike represents the entrepreneurial backbone of America. No, he does not design or manufacture the machines, but he fills a much-needed niche for very many people like me. He provides good service at a fair price, and he is so typically American in being "straight up." He is the face of capitalism.
We do not have to have industrial giants to see capitalism in action. We see it every day and probably don't recognize it. We see people acting as traders, voluntarily exchanging things of value in multiple win-win processes. We see moneymaking going on in endless ways. We see productivity, and clearly pride. We see the total opposite of the motor vehicles licensing division, post office, and city-county governments, with all their departments eating up taxpayer money and giving little in return.
Another interaction recently got my attention in much the same way Mike had.
Last week, "C.J." brought his crew, himself and two others, out to do the final installation of one of those new, never-clean gutter systems. He looked me in the eye, asked questions, and explained what they planned to do. In the course of that conversation, I learned that CJ is 23 years old. His crew looks to be about the same age. He has been doing installations for five years. Of course, he is an expert. His crew did in two hours what I could not have done in a week, and did it a lot better as well. CJ projected pride and self-esteem, along with obvious expertise. I have grown unaccustomed to seeing such traits in the soft-formed young adults these days. Today, he may be installing gutters and running a crew. Tomorrow, he will likely be running his own enterprise, whether gutters or something else.
This is capitalism in action.
Why stress capitalism? Because it is so us. It fits America so well. Few people seem aware that it represents so much of the spirit of the 4th of July. Here's how:
Capitalism is far more than just "free markets" or "free enterprise." It is "a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned." (From "What Is Capitalism?" by Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal). Clearly, we are living in a much-degraded capitalist system these days, in what economists call a "mixed economy." That fact does not change the essence of its meaning.
The essence of capitalism rests on individual rights. Rights are those freedoms of actions all humans need to be able to sustain and optimize their lives. Our Declaration of Independence set the vision of men breaking free from tyranny in order to enjoy these rights.
The Founders called them the Rights of Man, and the Declaration of Independence cited them: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Implied was the right to property, the essential right required for both the right to life and the pursuit of happiness. American capitalism is the only social system consonant with the Rights of Man.
Full capitalism is the fully "free society," free from aggression from other humans singly, in groups, or as government. In our partially free country today, we still have more freedom than all others on earth do do.
Mike and the others remind me of that, what we were, and what we could be. Men and women of all sorts and degrees of skills and expertise come together to exchange values, free from force, and not giving or expecting anything else they have not earned.
What we have in America is not available anywhere else on earth—a nation deliberately designed to promote and protect individual rights. That is what our Founders bequeathed to us on 4 July 1776.
4 July gives us an opportunity once a year to throw off the cynicism and sense of malevolence that come from living in a "mixed economy." We have much to celebrate, but much to do to restore the health of our great country.