There are many ways of looking at the wealth of nations, the well being of families, growth and prosperity. Some focus on macro factors, and some focus on micro factors. One neglected way is to focus on the role of our fathers.
It occurs to me that family histories are very repetitive. For eons nothing much changed as one generation after another scratched a bare existence out of the ground. Life was as hard for each generation as it was for the generation before. For nations, the big change didn’t begin in earnest until the industrial revolution and the division and specialization of labor that Adam Smith described as the main source of the wealth of nations.
Adam Smith didn’t invent relatively free markets as much as he just described what he observed in a way that organized and informed our thinking. He called our tendency to truck and barter innate. Working hard, producing, and trading are what people do naturally when they are free.
I understand that Karl Marx invented the word Capitalism to describe our system, but that’s okay. Capitalism and Freedom go together, and Milton Friedman’s book by that title was the source of my first awakening.
Today I opened a package and found a tee-shirt with Milton Friedman’s face on it. How cool is that?
Year’s ago I tracked down Adam Smith’s grave in Edinburg, at the foot of the Royal Mile. I went into a souvenir shop nearby to see what kind of Adam Smith paraphernalia they had. They had none. Adam who? How sad.
It was even worse than that when I and a group of libertarians celebrated in 2001 the 200th anniversary of Frederick Bastiat’s birth in southern France. We went to his birth site, his country home and the little town square nearby. Everywhere we went we were dogged by a small band of French socialists protesting against us “gangsters” and for the Tobin Tax.
But, once again, I’ve buried my lead. This was not supposed to be about those who contributed to national and world prosperity—Adam Smith, Frederick Bastiat, and Milton Friedman. It was supposed to be about the person most responsible for my prosperity—my Dad.
My Dad never became very prosperous himself, but he was the one who broke the cycle of poverty in our family. He dropped out of school in the 7th or 8th grade and went to work in the local sawmill. He hauled timber or pulpwood out of the mountains in a flat bed truck. He opened a small “filling station” (remember those?) and later a slightly larger “truck stop” where I’m proud to say I grew up—raised by long-haired waitresses is how I tell it now.
That I would go to college was never in question. He would have killed me if I hadn’t. It wasn’t that he wanted me to learn how the world works; he just wanted me to have a better job so “I wouldn’t have to work as hard as he did.” I went off to college and, from his point of view, never came back.
For a few years, he made money at the truck stop, but he was tied to it. He was proud that it was open 24/7, although I don’t think that shorthand term existed then. The money pretty much dried up when an interstate highway bypassed the truck stop, but he kept working to make a go of it. He wanted to leave the truck stop to my sister because he trusted her to keep it and run it. He wanted to leave me a little money because he knew I wouldn’t. In the end, no money was left and the truck stop was an albatross for my sister, who faced impossible odds before she eventually gave up. It’s boarded up now.
I guess the fancy phrase is “creative destruction.” My grandfather and great grandfather were both country blacksmiths. The automobile put them out of business. My Dad lived off cars and trucks until “time, place, and chance” happened to him.
Thanks to my Dad, I went to college and met my wife there. Our two sons went to college. Our granddaughter is—believe it or not—an honors economics major at George Mason University. Our story would be very different if my Dad hadn’t broken the mold.
Happy Father’s Day.