… is from Deirdre McCloskey’s forthcoming Reason essay titled “Lincoln, Economic Illiteracy, and the New History of King Cotton”:
When freed under the new liberalism of Adam Smith and Tom Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft, ordinary people could, as the British say, “have a go.” And go they did. What enriched the world was not stealing from others, such as from slaves or union workers or the Third World, but new ideas for machines and habits and institutions – the electric light and the internet, the container ship and the university, the antibiotic and the window screen, roughly honest bureaucrats and thoroughly admired entrepreneurs.
DBx: Nearly all of the material advances that constitute modern prosperity are manifested in goods and services that, to us moderns, are utterly mundane, often to the point of being unnoticed. Window screens. Asphalt, as in the stuff that we use for the surfaces of our roads and our roofs. Reinforced concrete. Plastic sandwich bags. Machine-woven fabrics that withstand the punishing cleansing force of another mundane (to us) item: automatic washing machines filled with yet another mundane (to us) marvel, namely, laundry detergent. Business logos that dramatically lower consumers’ costs of acquiring reliable information about different merchants and products.
If you’re reading this blog post, pause and look around you. You are surrounded by – and are yourself filled with (for example, the polio vaccine) – marvelous monuments to human creativity and the markets that direct that creativity into socially productive applications. And meta-marvelous is the fact that all these marvels are so commonplace today that they seem to us to be, not marvelous, but merely mundane.