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Understanding the World Makes You so Grateful for It

A friend of mine described what is was like for her to discover the meaning and implications of economic liberty in the world. Before, most of her formal education put down enterprise, business, corporations, and wealth creation, talking only about their downsides. The world was dark, with the monsters of exploitation, pollution, and inequality lurking around every corner.

But learning economics changed all that. Suddenly she saw that the consumer products all around her are not given by nature; they were created through a process that involved an amazing human drama of risk and reward. Within the commercial sector we find an orderliness that no one designed but is inclusive of everyone who wants to participate. Commerce is expansive, exciting, creative, and benevolent, always working to uplift the human spirit.

Business is glorious. It serves humanity.

This is a huge difference in perspective, and discovering it can rock your world. What is the key change in perspective? It has something to do with how you see the world around you. All the blessings that surround us can be seen as either a given fact of reality that deserve a severe criticism, or as blessings that do not have to exist but nonetheless are available to us as gifts of the heroic exercise of the human spirit.

To me, the key to the shift is gratitude, which comes from an awareness that all the awesomeness around us does not have to be. It comes to us for a particular reason: because people created, invented, invested, and made it happen for you and me. And let’s go one layer deeper. What kinds of institutions incentivize and coordinate all this activity? It’s not government, which has no resources of its own and creates nothing truly new. It comes from the institutions of the market economy: private property, and signaling systems like prices and interest rates.

This time of year, we are often lectured on the need to be grateful, but what if we really put this into practice? We would be grateful for all the things that don’t have to be: our lives and loved ones, certainly, but also the practical arts that surround us: electricity, the availability of food, smartphones, cars, you name it.

Which is precisely why I found this video charming.