Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Is Capitalism Day

On this Earth Day, George Mason University's Don Boudreaux celebrates what he calls Capitalism Day:
...far more than any other, has made human lives clean, safe, dignified, and culturally rich. Capitalism is also responsible for giving people the wealth and leisure to permit them to mis-perceive nature as loving and bountiful, and to enjoy nature in a way that few of our pre-industrial ancestors could ever have enjoyed it.
It is this latter point that is often ignored. A wealthier society is a gateway to all other things we value. Wealthier societies not only have more stuff (from Wiis to advanced medicine) and more options (for jobs, living areas, places to travel) they also give us the gift of time.

Time is our most precious resource. Our ability to save time (though greater productivity) is critical to our happiness. We spend time to enjoy the company of others, find love, seek enlightenment, discover our purpose in the world, and enjoy nature. In a lot ways, nature is a really nasty thing. It's a little strange we leave the safety of modern society to visit it. Nature is filled with bugs, dirt, and disease. The sun spews radiation. Some hiking trails are small and uneven, making it easy to get lost and then sprain an ankle. There is no plumbing, no Internet, and no one to gut and cook a fish for you. Poison ivy crops up in unexpected places. Water needs purification tablets and food needs to be hoisted in the air out of the reach of wild animals. Birds scream all the time. And this assumes it doesn't rain.

Few would ever want to live permanently in such a place and most that try don't last long. But all this "roughing it" can be fun if it's temporary; nature is best left as a tourist attraction. But only with the time capitalism awards us can we afford to "get away from it all" for days at a time. Visitors cut themselves off from the world that they rely on for everything they brought out to the wilderness to make sure they don't die. If there was no capitalism, if people were too busy to see how beautiful nature can be, we likely wouldn't have an Earth Day which celebrates the wilderness. Or, worse yet, we'd be out there all the time.

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