Count Your Capitalist Blessings

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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 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.

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
count my blessings instead of sheep.
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

Our bodies
are pampered by our economic environment. We pay for this with
our stomachs.

is seriously wrong. But it’s not the economy.

Every once
in a while, we need 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




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.

health care is plentiful.

Soap is cheap.

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.


growth means that we can accomplish more with whatever amount
of money or assets that we possess.

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

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

Email is

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).

can’t hide anything for very long.

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

The Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) has
put its courses on-line, free of charge
. This is the wave
of the future.

Books are
cheap and available everywhere, including Amazon.

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


More square
feet per home each generation.

bedrooms are universal.

Indoor plumbing
is universal.

are common: wider home ownership.

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.


has delivered most of us from physically hard labor.

Clean water
is cheap and abundant.

diseases have disappeared.

growth is now possible.


Human labor
is the most versatile factor of production. The problem has been
to finance 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.

jobs are plentiful.

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

Thrift is
constantly providing new tools.

New tools
increase workers’ production.

Air conditioning
makes siesta societies more productive.

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.


live by eight words:

and let live.
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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.)


What did
a powerful king have in 1700 that you don’t have? (I don’t mean

What 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.


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


I am sure
I have left out a lot of important items, and probably categories.
Think about this. Get a list together. Send it as an email (not
as an attachment) to

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.

If I get
a lot of submissions, I’ll send out an undated list you everyone
who sends me a list.

13, 2004

North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit

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