All Commentary
Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Most Important

The most important people are the farmers, so it is said, for they feed the nation. Laborers, however, are just about as important because they do the real work. On the other hand, were it not for the doctors and for medical science, our life expectancy would be shorter, with less opportunity to enjoy all the other nice things. So we see after all that the doctors are the most important—except for the ministers who are most important because this life is so short and the next one so long.

Let us remember, though, that teachers are the ones who lay the foundation for everything; and unless they do their job well, we won’t even get started along any line; we will regress to barbarism. And bear in mind that if it were not for the savers and capitalists, we would still be plowing with a stick and pounding corn in a hollowed stone.

Where would we be if the milkman didn’t get up early to serve us and our babies? If our babies were to die, what would we have? So there really is no argument; the milkman is the most important. Of course, we have to have electricity or nearly everything would stop. . . . In case the service is disrupted, one must call the power plant, by telephone. Perhaps phone service is the most important. . . .

The truth is that many different things are most important, each of us having his own idea of their relative importance, depending upon the time and circumstances. Each of us tends to do what seems most important to him at the moment, and this accounts for all human creativity and production. With our creative and productive specialties we come to be important to one another, often in ways which could not be foreseen and which many of us may never clearly understand. This variability in the subjective judgments of the importance of things is the basis of all trade and voluntary cooperation, enabling each productive individual to gain peaceful possession and use of vastly more than he could ever hope to attain strictly on his own.

 Conflict and Cooperation

We also know that personal freedom to judge the importance of things can lead to conflict as well as to voluntary cooperation. There are those who think it most important to gain something for nothing, which leads to conflict, making the power of compulsion seem most important. Hence, we tend to rate national defense, the maintenance of internal law and order, and the administration of justice—the force of government—as most important. But the governmental power to suppress private outbursts of violence, thus protecting life and property, is also a power capable of taking the lives and the property of individuals. And in the name of promoting their own special interests, groups often advocate compulsory action detrimental to the peaceful and proper interests of others.

Therein lies the danger of concluding that any one thing is most important—so important that force and compulsion seem justified as a means to that end. Coercive means tend to become ends in themselves, having no logical stopping place until all resistance, all deviation, all competition, all exchange, all initiative, all individuality is suppressed.