Giving Thanks to the Market

Every year, as Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season roll around, we must all face the inevitable sight of politicians commending America, its military, its public servants, the spirit of giving, family, brotherhood, apple pie, and all the rest of the traditional subjects of adulation that only the misanthropic or unpatriotic would ever deride.

We are told to be particularly thankful for the public schoolteachers, the police officers, the legislators, bureaucrats, and especially soldiers.

Now, it is perfectly fitting to appreciate the humanity of everyone in our society, particularly in the holiday season. Yet neglected by most official hosannas sung for those whom we presumably owe our loudest thanks are the greatest public servants of them all.

I am talking about the merchants, the farmers and truck drivers, the waiters and waitresses, the storeowners and bag boys. I’m referring to the businessmen and businesswomen, the producers and sellers, the investors, the stockholders and brokers, and the people in all walks of life who serve their fellow humans every day.These people aren’t usually considered public servants, but that is precisely what they are. By serving their customers, clients, and employers in the framework of the market economy, they create wealth where none before existed. In any voluntary market exchange, both consenting parties part with something they value less for something they value more. Whether it is labor, a good, or a service, each participant in the economy contributes something that ends up where it is most valued. Although most engage in transactions primarily for the benefit of themselves and perhaps their families, they cannot help aiding others in the process, both those with whom they directly exchange and, indirectly, all of us who buy or sell or work on the market.

Indeed, if it were not for the market, the politicians too would have no resources, no salaries, and much less to be thankful for. Whereas the so-called private sector produces wealth, the government produces nothing on its own; it gets its revenue purely by extracting it from the productive sector through taxes or inflation.

All the material wealth in our society was created by human effort, and we are an especially wealthy country because our economic system, whatever its many faults, rewards and encourages individual effort and channels it in ever more productive ways for the masses.

Thanks to the market—the sellers, buyers, producers, savers, and investors—most of us are able to appreciate a material wealth that kings and queens would have only dreamed about a hundred years ago. The market allows for a division of labor to maximize production to everyone’s mutual benefit. Free enterprise, grounded in private property, sends signals to entrepreneurs and producers of what the people most want and need, allowing them to find the most efficient ways of providing it.

Even the first Thanksgiving is widely misunderstood and taught as a lesson in communitarianism, when in fact the real lesson is the importance of private property for the sustenance of civilization. Contrary to myth, the Pilgrims had gone hungry primarily as a result of collectivist economic principles. Founded in 1620, the Plymouth Plantation began with a communal system of agricultural production. Without the incentive to work, many of the Pilgrims didn’t. As economist Dr. Ben Powell describes it, “Faced with potential starvation in the spring of 1623, the colony decided to implement a new economic system. Every family was assigned a private parcel of land. They could then keep all they grew for themselves, but now they alone were responsible for feeding themselves. While not a complete private property system, the move away from communal ownership had dramatic results.”

The Pilgrims survived by instituting just a little bit of market incentive. The rest is history.

Compared to the Pilgrims, Americans now have a thriving market economy, but it is far less robust and healthy than it could be, because of overbearing taxation and regulation.

We must thank the charitable activities of good men and women who give to the less fortunate. We must thank our families, our loved ones, and friends this holiday season. But if you’re thankful at all for your possessions, the roof over your head, the food on your table, the high living standards of modern life, and the vibrant culture around you, from the wondrous selection of cuisine to the grand displays of art, thank the millions of men and women and the market economy that made it all possible.

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