Having just gone through election season, we have all had our fill of political dishonesty and general terribleness, and we have witnessed bias and lack of basic integrity in the news media. We know that big businesses, big labor unions, and big so-called-non-profits and foundations pay big money to buy influence in Washington and state capitals. Some people are television news junkies, others are hooked on social media websites, and we can encounter some pretty contemptible and deceitful people in our virtual wanderings. Bad news can overwhelm, but if you always look where it resides, you will always find it, and it can give a pretty jaded view of humanity. It sometimes seems like there is corruption all around us.
Of course you shouldn’t be naive and set yourself up for abuse, and you shouldn’t bury your head in the sand. You should know things that are happening that will impact your life, but there are other places to look for goodness and honesty. Take a trip to the grocery store. You will find many aisles of shelves filled with a tremendous variety of goods to satisfy different tastes and lifestyles. In most cases, if the item is bad or doesn’t fit your needs after the purchase, you will be able to return it for a refund. The store has relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, and, financial institutions. The trucking company delivering goods has the same types of relationships, as does the truck dealer, the truck manufacturer, the steelmaker, and so on. On a wider level, as long as the electric bill is paid, everyone expects the lights to come on when they flip the switch. The economy is a tremendously complex system of billions of transactions that depend, to some greater or lesser extent, on people doing what they are supposed to do.
A prosperous society is an indication that a lot of things are right. Widespread commerce is the fount from which prosperity springs, but that commerce depends on honest relationships and reliable networks of people and things. It is not that every neighbor, coworker, employer, or entrepreneur will be honest and of high character, but enough of them are that we open ourselves up to others to share our experiences, our skills, and our lives.
Societies do exist, however, where that is not the case. Trust is missing in those situations, because people tend not to be trustworthy. Informal, inefficient markets take the place of efficient, formal ones because formal transactions tend to attract politicians, bribery, and even confiscation or theft. Politicians enrich themselves at the expense of their own citizens, and corruption from the top filters down to the lowest levels of society. People are not secure in their property or their lives. Things we take for granted, such as electricity, are either unavailable or not reliable, primarily because of politics.
We, in America and other developed countries, do have our problems. We have our bad politicians and abusive bureaucracies. We have far too many laws that can be arbitrarily applied, and some really bad laws that abuse the rights of citizens. On a day to day basis, however, most of us take a lot of the good things for granted. Those good things arise from the the presumption of rights of individuals to own and control property, homes, and businesses, and on voluntary commerce for our own benefit. Those things can go away if we are complacent, as so many countries that have descended to poverty and despair can attest. There is a lot of goodness, but it takes a vigilant people to keep politicians in their place and to keep their hands off of those basic rights, or that goodness will disappear.