Giving Thanks to Family, Friends and the Market

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I love Thanksgiving, a time to reflect on the many things to appreciate in life. My readers are used to seeing me complain about a lot in the world. For me, this is a time to be positive.

I owe thanks to my family, my parents and brother, who encouraged me so much in life and helped me become the person I am today. They taught me values of self-responsibility and hard work, and were always supportive of me in pursuing my dreams — whether in writing, in music or in study. They showered me with love, kindness and care, and I am lucky to have been blessed with the family I have.

I also owe thanks to my friends — the informal family of people I wasn’t born with, but who nevertheless have shown me so much love and caring. I am quite fortunate to have my girlfriend, Nicole, who has always been sweet and wonderful. All the pals I have learned from and gotten so much help from, in good times and bad, deserve my gratitude and thanks. The friends I play music with, the ones I simply hang out with, the ones I know intimately and the ones I know more casually — I love them all. I even love the ones who aren’t libertarians!

Every Thanksgiving, my mom makes an oyster stuffing that simply cannot be topped. She’s a terrific cook, and her hard work and dedication to the cause of delicious dinner come through every year. I owe her thanks for feeding me so well my whole life.

But I also owe thanks to thousands of other people, without whom the Thanksgiving dinner I eat — along with most other meals I enjoy — would be beyond my reach.

I am referring to the grocers, the farmers, the storeowners, the truckers, the managers, the shipping industry, and all the other good folks who, thanks to the magnificent market economy, are able to serve their ends along with others’, mostly strangers’, in a system of mutual exchange and mutual benefit.

My mom’s oyster stuffing is but one example of this miracle. It is a wonder that we have access to oysters, for one thing! Although I live near enough to the bay, oftentimes the oysters are shipped from bodies of water hundreds or thousands of miles away. Each of the other ingredients has a long distance to go before it ultimately winds up in my hungry tummy.

A hundred years ago, almost no one had access to oysters; they were a luxury reserved for the super-rich. Two hundred years ago, only the most powerful royalty and other incredibly wealthy people could obtain seafood, except for those living immediately nearby bodies of water. Throughout our country, oysters are now a common dish, accessible to almost everyone.

Think of all the incredible food present at a Thanksgiving dinner. Chances are, the vegetables, meats, spices and breads traveled a mighty distance to get to your table. Thanks to the market, most Americans can enjoy a dinner that even kings in centuries past could only dream of.

And to give thanks only to those millions involved directly in the food industry is to ignore the millions of others who indirectly bring us our food. Leonard Read famously described the mind-boggling decentralized processes that went into the manufacturing and transport of a single pencil. As long as someone down the line, from the farmer to the grocery clerk, uses a pencil to aid in the production and delivery of your Thanksgiving dinner, we must also give thanks to the entire pencil industry, as well. And since none of these industries would be as vibrant without consumers, who acquire their own wealth in all kinds of different industries, they, too, deserve our thanks.

The market economy allows hundreds of millions of people, the world over, to cooperate in ways that no central planner could possibly contemplate, let alone direct, all to bring you your Thanksgiving dinner, all other meals you enjoy, and all the other necessities and luxuries of modern civilization. Every single day, billions of economic decisions are made and tasks carried out by hundreds of millions of individuals. Together, they achieve the unthinkable. Every day.

I owe thanks to the millions of people who make my life easier, who allow me to enjoy leisure time, who bring me food and beer in exchange for what comes down to a manageable amount of my own labor. Someone would have to work around the clock for months to provide himself with even the most basic elements of a Thanksgiving dinner. Though my mother labors hard on the days before Thanksgiving, she does not need to grow all the vegetables herself (though she grows some of them), catch the oysters, raise and kill the turkey, grow the wheat to make the bread, churn the butter from the family cow’s milk, harvest the salt or grow the necessary spices. As hard as she works on Thanksgiving dinner — and she does work very hard! — her labor becomes incalculably more productive, thanks to the market.

One beautiful thing about the market is that the people involved, who don’t even know each other, who might even be in conflict with each other under a centrally planned economic system, have reason to thank each other. When’s the last time you went to a grocery store or restaurant, and both you and the employee there said "Thanks"? It’s probably happened.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Some decry the marketplace, because it is about trading, buying and selling, and supposedly not about cooperating and sharing. But this is a distortion. The free market is about cooperation and helping each other. Just as you give to and receive from your family and friends, just as parents and children and brothers and sisters have reason to thank each other at the Thanksgiving dinner table — and no one thinks it’s wrong to thank each other in these cases — so too it is gracious to exchange thanks with the people with whom you exchange goods and services in the marketplace.

It is wonderful to help each other as well as yourself in the free market. For many people, what they get in return for what they give is thanks enough. For many people, it seems much more appropriate to give thanks than to receive it.

And yet, we should all exchange thanks, for we have reaped amazing benefits from the earth by virtue of our labor, our management, and our mutual exchange.

We should also reflect on the heroic efforts of voluntary private charity. Detractors of the market will frequently point to the soup kitchens and free food lines as proof that the free market economy is a failure. But this is the opposite of the truth. The abundance of the market allows the giving to multiply the material impact of their generosity. In addition to the food that businesses voluntarily donate during the holiday season, the low prices and surpluses of food — consequences of a market economy — allow charities to be as giving as they are. The generous people who give to the poor are enabled by the free time, money, and resources that they have in abundance, thanks to the market economy. Charity is far from an indication of market failure; it is indeed a natural extension of the prosperity of the market and voluntary human action. The freer and stronger the economy, the more resounding the blessings of charity.

We owe thanks to the market — to the millions of men and women, Americans and foreigners, employers and employees, managers and workers — for our Thanksgiving dinners, and for almost all else of material worth in our lives. The market, along with our families, friends, and communities, embodies the civil, peaceful and cooperative spirit to which we owe thanks for all productive and harmonious human activity — in other words, for civilization itself.

Thank you, to my family and friends. And thank you, all of you, whom I’ll never meet, for waking up in the morning and going to work, and for bringing me and so many others a delicious dinner and a magnificent celebration of plenty on this Thanksgiving.

Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research assistant at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.

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