Adam, meet Paris

By John Latta
Executive Editor
[email protected]

You drive a mile, you get paid for a mile. You don’t drive a mile, you don’t get paid.

What you put in your pocket, you have earned. And in the process of trying to make a living for yourself and your family, you have contributed significantly to the wealth and smooth running of your society. Adam Smith would be proud of you.

Smith was a Scotsman, born incidentally in my family’s hometown, Kirkcaldy, in the summer of 1723. He was still in his 20s when he began to investigate an economic philosophy he called an “obvious and simple system of natural liberty.” Eventually he discovered the core of this system. In his major work, “The Wealth of Nations,” Smith opined that within a capitalistic way of life, an individual acting for his own good tends to also promote the good of his community.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. As every individual, therefore, endeavors as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labors to render the annual value of society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it.”

What he did not specifically address, but which we now know is true, is that to have our fine free-enterprise system we have to carry a lot of dead weight and put up with a lot of crap.

In our system, selfishness and self-interest have the leeway to run amok. Some just take from the rest of us with no interest in passing on to us something of value. They get paid this way: I’ll drive a mile, you pay me for two miles. No make it three. Ten. No, more. And I won’t drive.

Here’s the catch: if we stop them from cheating us, we will essentially confound the machinery of our society so much that the rest of us will also suffer.

If we are to have free speech, we must accept that some of it will be hate. We can’t ban hate speech without endangering all free speech. If companies are to thrive and employ people, the system that provides that opportunity will occasionally produce a company that simply rips us off. Try to completely strangle those crooked companies, and the good companies will also begin to struggle for the oxygen they must have. And for you to be able to earn your living a mile at a time, there has to be the occasional Paris Hilton.

It is one thing to aspire to fame and fortune, to dream of stardom or work to make even the most extravagant wishes come true. It is another to float blissfully around on a cloud of wealth built by somebody else, living with the assumption that one is above it all somehow.

What Adam Smith seems to have missed is that there is a line beyond which the things that some people do (I can’t call it work) don’t produce value for society as a whole. You have become a freeloader. A user. A taker. A wealthy passenger that truckers and millions of others support, even though you never know it, with work that does add value to our society. These are the people who expect to walk to the front of the line you’ve been standing in for hours.

As you roll along mile after mile, you are not only earning a living and building society, you are being part of a way of life, one we don’t want to change, even though it has no choice but to allow freeloaders.

I look at it this way. The freeloaders aren’t essential to America – you are. Without you, there can be no them, but it can never be the other way around.