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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Friendliness Is an Economic Revolution

Could Lenin and Trotsky have led the Russian people to revolution if they had been happy with their lives?

Almost every morning, sparing those that I’m particularly late, I stop and get a biscuit at one of the great capitalist establishments, McDonald’s. It need not be said, however, that while McDonald’s as a whole is a marvelous thing, providing great service and cheap food to millions everyday, not every McDonald’s is created equal. The McDonald’s closest to my house, is one of the bad eggs. I have almost never gotten what I’ve ordered, the way I’ve ordered it, and when I have it was old and nasty. Thanks to the free market, I need not despair. There are many businesses standing by who are eager to satisfy my sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit addiction. This morning, fed up with the constant disappointment, I decided to take my money elsewhere, as most of my town already seemed to have done.

We’ve lived like this so long most people’s reaction is no longer one of amazement when these things happen.

From the moment I entered, it was clear to me that this McDonald’s was on top of its game. Unlike the other store, which was a desolate place where few (read: me) were foolish enough to dine, this place was bustling with customers. The employees were working very hard and very diligently to make sure all of these hungry people were fed as quickly as possible. Their paycheck depended on doing so after all.

I had a great appreciation for their efforts, which made the most important of things possible for me, breakfast. Unfortunately, most people have forgotten this fact. We live in a world where we are provided with almost anything we could possibly want at any moment thanks to the free market. We’ve lived like this so long most people’s reaction is no longer one of amazement when these things happen. At best, the typical reaction is one of indifference and apathy. If something goes even slightly wrong though, this tends to illicit a reaction of anger. This trend is one of the great tragedies of our time, and it was ever apparent among my fellow patrons.

Customers were barking their orders to the cashier, who was also expediting the food. They would stand quietly and slightly impatiently while waiting for their number to be called. When it was, they took their food, which these employees had worked as hard as they could to provide at a moment’s notice, without a thank you, a smile, or even any eye contact.

This complete lack of recognition and appreciation day after day had worn the cashier down. She was putting all of her effort into doing her job and doing it well, but she hated it. She was visibly unhappy and tired of this grind. I had been in her shoes working at a physically demanding, time sensitive, service job with little feedback. I knew what she was thinking. Why was she there? Was her job, and by extension a large chunk of her life, meaningless?

The typical worker at any level of employment hasn’t read either Mises or Marx. Their economic thought isn’t formed through dedicated study. They don’t have time or a desire to do so. They want to live their lives as happily as possible, like every acting individual. Studying economics is, unfortunately, rarely a part of that equation. Their experience at their job is a huge part of that equation. These sorts of thoughts are very depressing and destructive. They are the emotions that collectivist revolutionaries have always exploited to usurp power and wealth for themselves at everyone else’s expense. They tell workers that their personal unhappiness is because of evil entrepreneurs and the only way to be happy is to revolt against free markets and for socialism, the most tyrannical and oppressive idea of all. As a long time student of economics, I knew the truth. I knew the answers to these questions she was asking herself.

The only tool socialists have left is that of emotional appeal, a tool which they have always brilliantly exploited around the world to disastrous effect.

This cashier and her coworkers are incredibly valuable. Her job was full of meaning. She was providing value, vital nutrition, and happiness for hundreds of people everyday, even if nobody was explicitly telling her. The free market is what enables her to realize her value as a person and provide all of this happiness to all of these people. Enough was enough. I made a decision while I was standing in that line. I was going to initiate a micro-revolution.

I waited patiently in line for my turn to order. When I got to the front, I looked her in her eyes and proceeded to do something truly radical; I smiled. I asked her how she was. I ordered politely instead of authoritatively. Then, when my order was ready and she handed me my fast food fix, I said as genuinely as I could, thank you and that I hoped she had a good day. For the first time in the 10 to 15 minutes that I was standing there, and I suspect much longer than that, she had a real smile on her face, and it stayed there after I walked away. She was standing up straight again, and her actions exuded a renewed purpose. These little outward expressions of friendliness and appreciation that everybody else had neglected made all of the difference. She was genuinely happy.

The Economic Power of Happy People

Is calling this little interaction a micro-revolution being melodramatic? Perhaps it is, but if so, not by much. Socialists and interventionists have lost the intellectual battle. The arguments presented by Austrian economists for free markets and against government are irrefutable. Since Mises told us nearly a century ago that economic calculation is impossible under socialism leading to chaos and crushing poverty, socialist thinkers have been completely helpless in their efforts to refute him. As Mises would later point out in his book Socialism, they knew it then, and they know it now. The only tool they have left is that of emotional appeal, a tool which they have always brilliantly exploited around the world to disastrous effect.

These little acts of friendliness, appreciation, and kindness take away their only tool. They subtly and implicitly reveal the true nature of free markets, and they make people happy. Could Lenin and Trotsky have led the Russian people to revolution if they had been happy with their lives, if the two had only appealed to completely flawed economic theory? Hardly.

More than this, these little interactions that take place in the market are the beginnings of bigger conversations and potentially friendships. One of the great things about friends is that they’ll listen to what their friends are passionate about. That’s when a real discussion about free markets could begin.

So the next time you go to order your fast food craving, start a rebellion for free markets. Smile. Be friendly. Show people how valuable they are. The world will be a brighter, freer, and more prosperous place because of it.

  • Nathan Keeble helped start the Campaign to End Civil Asset Forfeiture in Tennessee.