I saw a video the other day from the American Enterprise Institute about the morality of capitalism. Capitalism, to paraphrase, clears access to the satisfaction that comes from achieving something. Being given the same thing brings us far less happiness. Government, then, takes something from someone to whom it brings a lot of joy and gives it to someone to whom it brings very little. Further, it removes the motivation for those receiving welfare to seek the joy of production and achievement. Yuck! How can we be so heartless?
It occurred to me as I was watching that, while I’ve achieved many things in my life, the American Enterprise Institute might scoff that them. You see, I work for big companies or worse, universities, where I do research that never makes the New York Times and won’t be featured in a product next year–or next decade. Even the work I do for private companies is often funded by public grants given either to my company or to our customers. Like the villains in the video, I’m often not pleasing “customers” so much as the government committees who review grant applications.
Gittin’ ‘er done, collectively
When I achieve things, I share credit with thousands of people. Can this collective achievement be as satisfying or valuable as the individual achievement described in the video? Your professor and I think so. We are used to being a small cog in an absolutely enormous machine and we recognize that some things can only be done this way. My grandfather had a tiny role in the early flights of the Space Shuttle–a very big deal that improves your life whenever you turn on your GPS or check the weather report. But if you listed the contributors to that project, Grandpa would surely be buried somewhere in the back with the dolly grip and craft services. He didn’t mind that at all. Whether it’s better play a small part in our mission to space or a large part in a Jamba Juice franchise can certainly be debated.
These collective works we’re about are far-reaching and critically important. One day we’ll announce cold fusion and a cure for cancer, saving the planet and literally millions of lives. Someone who put together the last piece of the puzzle will be on the cover of Time. But behind her, there’ll be legions of scientists who will sit back in their easy chairs with a self-satisfied grin, knowing they’ve done good work and ever so glad they didn’t take their uncle’s advice to drop this ivory tower nonsense and become a day trader.