Capitalism and Love

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As
an attendee at the recent Mises
Institute Supporters' Summit on Radical Scholarship
, I was treated
to a wonderful talk by Lew Rockwell which began with this intriguing
opening, "You can learn so much about human nature, the workings
of society, and the functioning of markets by looking at the aftermath
of a natural disaster. It is a fascinating laboratory for observing
how society functions under the worst conditions." Before the
Summit was over, I was able to prove that this was also true of
personal disasters as well.

Well,
not really a disaster, but at least a major disappointment. Let
me explain. When it comes to clothes, I am the anti-Tucker. You
may remember Jeff
Tucker's article from a few months ago about how to dress like a
man
. Well, I live by all the opposite rules. My sense of style
is what John Madden calls "FIDO," which stands for, "Forget
It and Drive On." I'm 5’10", 320 pounds, and there just
doesn't seem to be any point. Fifteen years ago, I stopped wearing
ties to work several months before my company instituted Casual
Friday. No one talks about Casual Friday anymore, because it's Casual
Everyday. (We never see our customers, so no harm done.) Some people
wear a tie every day and go to church on Easter and Christmas. I
go to church every week but wear a tie on Easter and Christmas.

I
do own a tuxedo. It's the only formal wear I can be comfortable
in, and go figure. I needed to own one because I have been a choral
singer with the Napa Symphony Chorus and the Napa Valley Chorale.
I hadn't done that in a while, but the last time I put my tux on,
it seemed to fit pretty well. I decided I’d pack it for the Summit,
and didn't bother to try it on; it hadn't been that long ago, and
I couldn't have changed shape that much.

Oh,
yes it had and yes I could. Two hours before the formal, black tie
optional, dinner in honor of Hans F. Sennholz, the wind-up of the
busy and wonderful weekend, I was finding out that I wasn't going
to get that trouser zipper closed even if I yanked on it with a
vise grip. I couldn't wear a tuxedo shirt with Dockers (even I follow
some rules), and I couldn't show up wearing the polo shirt
that still had gravy spots on it from lunch at Bay Meadows Racetrack
(FIDO again). I didn't want to miss the dinner; it was paid for,
and I wasn't going to be comforted by the doctrine of sunken costs.
Only private enterprise could save me.

It
was 6:30pm, an hour and a half to go. I found a Men's Wearhouse.
You've heard their commercials – George Zimmer, "I guarantee
it," and the testimonies from satisfied customers. The lights
were on, the door wasn't bolted, and the staff were inside. The
store closed at 6, and there was a sign on it saying it was moving
to a new location. I figured, "I better put this in a way they
can't turn me down." I opened the door and said, "I really
need your help. I have to be at a formal dinner in an hour and a
half and my tux doesn't fit. I have to get a sports shirt and a
tie and maybe even a jacket. This is the kind of thing you can
do a radio commercial about if you can help me."

There
were about seven or eight staff in the store, but they were there
to strip their shelves and their racks, and pack everything up in
preparation for the move to the new store. That sign out front wasn't
for some vague time in the future, it was for today.

Over
the next hour, Joe Lewis ("You and I are both named for famous
people," he told me – I told him I'm a better singer than
the lead for Journey, but he looked like he could handle
himself in the ring, too) helped me pick out a nice jacket, shirt,
and tie. Actually, he didn't help me do it, he did it for me,
because I'm hopeless at that sort of thing (FIDO again). And my
wife made sure my tie choice was not too eccentric. Then he fired
up the steam iron in the back, which took fifteen minutes, and pressed
the wrinkles out of the shirt. In the meantime, I'm trying to stay
out of everyone's way, and the store manager, Wayne, came over and
talked with me for a nice while and made me feel quite at home.
I couldn't have been made more welcome, even though the store was
closed and they all had a lot of genuinely hard work to do.

Of
course I told them what I was doing down in San Mateo, and all about
Lew's talk the previous night. I wanted them to know they were the
object lesson, the very people the Mises Institute is fighting for.
Adam Smith famously said that it was not benevolence that causes
the breadmaker and the shoemaker to provide us with what we need,
and he's right. But what the critics of capitalism never realize,
and the defenders do not point out enough, is that the effort to
serve the customer creates a habit of benevolence. What the
critics don't understand is that one sale is not enough. The good
businessman wants you to come back. He wants to take responsibility
for your future needs. Of course he knows the rewards are greater
this way, but he still can't accomplish it without, dare I say it?
– love.

October
19, 2004

Stephen
F. Perry [send him mail] is
an insurance administrator in San Francisco.

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