Wednesday, August 17, 2005

toward a rain forest of free enterprise

From the inimitable T. Clarke Durant:

Here's a story about being engaged in the enterprise for free enterprise.

My grandfather, John C. Sparks, was one of the early board members for
FEE (The Foundation for Economic Education), and acted as
interim-president after Leonard Read died. He wrote a number of short
pieces during his long involvement with FEE. My favorite is this one,
called "If Men Were Free To Try."

Since the advent of email he has sent out a weekly riff to a list of
friends and family, usually on matters of the political economy, which
is just a dry way of saying "on matters of the briskly unfolding
tapestry of human dreams, purposes, and projects." I always think of
the cartoons where they roll out the red carpet and it just keeps
unrolling and unrolling to an impossible length. I imagine the carpet
of enterprise would start narrow and red (or humble and thin like a
straw mat?), but then the further it unfolds the more sturdy, broad,
elaborate, and colorful it would become, until it seemed less like a
carpet and more like a rain forest. The political economy is the
drama of how ramshackle straw mats of human purpose can be woven by
enterprise into a rain forest of teeming peace, prosperity, and

My grandfather wielded his humble green thumb in the service of the
dream of that rain forest. Several weeks ago, hours after penning
that week's "Thursday thoughts," he had a massive stroke. My
grandmother sent out the Thursday thoughts, included below. They
ended up being his last words. His 87th birthday would be this
Saturday. Below his thoughts are the thoughts my grandmother had me
send out the next week.

We live in beautiful world.

T. Clark

Thursday thoughts -- March 24, 2005
[Sorry that I must preface these thoughts, completed Monday, with the
bad news that John had a stroke on Monday and is at Aultman Hospital.
Please, no visitors until he is stable. Just send your positive
thoughts his direction and he will know. Thanks, Audrey]

The average length of life in the USA is about 80 years. One hundred
years ago it was 50 -- a significant measure of progress meriting a
special nod of gratitude to the medical community -- pharmaceutical
research, creative development of medical instruments, and other
supplemental good-health activities.

Even more significant -- but harder to measure, is the creation of
additional time within the years of our lives. There's a kind of
"doubling up" of our personal time. In the early 1900's to
communicate with a person in California, you'd likely write a letter.
If replied by return mail, the communication would take about two
weeks of time. One hundred years later, however, there are several
options, e-mail, cell phone, regular long distance, etc. providing a
choice of communication which can be completed within a few minutes.
Time created? Yes, a few minutes less than two weeks for that one
event. Travel by horse-drawn vehicles and later by the early motor
cars then was infinitely slower than today's 2005 model cars and
trucks, or by jet aircraft. Two more examples of time creation. It
would be redundant, probably impossible, to list thousands of other
time-creation inventions -- washing and drying of laundry, microwave
preparation of foods -- the list is endless -- all time-creation

What does it mean? What should we learn from this knowledge.
Advancement of humankind comes from the thinkers, creators and
like-minded participants. Advancement does NOT come from those from
who contribute nothing, yet sponge the system. (These observations
relate only to the physical and mentally fit, not the disabled). Many
handicap themselves, however, by refusing to use their brains toward
something useful rather than convincing themselves they are owed a
comfortable life. Typically they manifest their parasitic way of life
by denouncing the producers. They protest, march, threaten, mouth
unintelligent slogans against the producers to influence political
action which, unfortunately, too often ends in submission. Political
parties have succumbed to this evil blackmail, with a few rare
stalwart politicians resisting -- but others blatantly and
irrationally march on, no matter that their chosen road leads to
economic and spiritual depression.

Human advancement is not automatic. It comes from right decisions of
free people with government confined to the protection of free people
making peaceful choices. Events point to a reversal of this healthy
advancement, however. For one, the rapid growth of tort suits
(alleging anything) is causing products to disappear, businesses to go
into bankruptcy, medical doctors to quit -- totally irresponsible
pork spending (looting of tax-$'s paid in). The American people may
withstand this and many other injustices primarily aimed at those who
produce -- "taking it on the chin" -- for a while, up to a point.
Not as readily seen, however, is the greater harm from the onslaught
against freedom to act peacefully and with responsibility. The
engine of human advancement is being scuttled. Creativity ends when
the greedy and the leeches bring their brand of moral delinquency to
overrule freedom in America.


Thursday Thoughts – March 31, 2005

This week the crimes and corruptions of politicians might unfold with
a little less outrage. This week the bounty and abundance generated
by free enterprise will continue to amass itself all around us, but we
might wonder at it a little less, and take it for granted a little
more. This week our sometimes ruddy sense for the simultaneous crisis
and opportunity of our time might find itself a little more pale,
atrophied, and fumbling. All this MIGHT come to pass. But it need
not and will not come to pass if we let the Spirit of John C. Sparks
animate our hearts and minds.

There seems to be a paradox to that Spirit: a kind of guarded
optimism, or a hopeful pessimism. We normally associate optimism with
the young and naïve, for whom most good things wait in the future;
whereas we partner pessimism with the old and sentimental, for whom
most good things may reside in the past. But the Spirit of John C.
Sparks is a strange and wonderful concoction of both young and old! He
is more likely to be sentimental for the potentials of the future than
for bygone "olden days"! At the same time, the Spirit is too
weathered and wise to maintain a naïve optimism that takes peace,
prosperity, and progress as inevitabilities or entitlements! Indeed,
the Spirit of John C. Sparks is strung taut between "alluring hopes
and haunting fears," as Austrian economist Carl Menger would have it.

And this tension set the pitch at which "Papa" Sparks plucked his
Thursday Thoughts. Such pitch, urgency, and excitement are
appropriate to a world with an open future, with a fate up for grabs.
"Human advancement is not automatic," he said last week in those
serenely appreciative and appropriate Thoughts. Well, even though
human advancement cannot be guaranteed, we can make marginal
contributions upward and onward. Heave, ho! One month earlier, Papa
had pushed our attention beyond policy patches, beyond even
institutional reforms (as of Social Security), to the battle of ideas.
It was on that front, first and foremost, where he sought us as
allies. He said, "If we are to defend freedom, and advance its
concepts, preparation is the prerequisite. This is a battle of ideas.
Read, think, discuss." Let us rise to meet those imperatives with the
urgency they merit. A voice in the chorus of freedom has let its last
notes ring. May that voice's theme resound in our breasts, upon our
foreheads, and off our tongues.