BLESSED with a wife born in America, Thanksgiving is a festival I am learning to celebrate. In grim economic times, it is easy to focus only the negative. But we still enjoy the rare good fortune to live, for the most part, in peace and under liberty. Freedoms of association, speech, trade, and faith enrich our lives every day. Albeit a day late, tonight I will be raising a thankful glass with my friends to these five blessings of our commercial society:
- This month Ronald Coase announced that he is starting a new economic journal, Man and the Economy, which aims to reunite the real world with economic theory. Coase is not only a Nobel-winning economist, famous for his work on the nature of the firm, he is also 102 years old. There is no brighter sign of our society’s intellectual energy –our best hope for a future based on growth and innovation.
- Also this month, a team from China announced the first teleportation of data between objects visible to the naked eye. It is not quite Star Trek, but it is an important step forward to a world of quantum computing networks of hitherto unimaginable power. Our willingness to test the limits of the possible produces the daily breakthroughs that improve our lives and transform the economy.
- A new book from critic Paul Cantor, The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture, makes the case for the achievements of American mass art. It is a welcome antidote to those who, since the birth of the novel, have been suspicious of commercial culture – having forgotten that Shakespeare himself wrote for money. TV drama of the quality of The Killing or Breaking Bad, animations from Pixar, and even the latest James Bond film all give good reason to be thankful.
- The delicious food available in London. In the nineteenth century the great French liberal Frederic Bastiat wondered at the power of the free market to feed the million mouths of Paris. Today, markets like Borough, Leadenhall and Smithfield bring the fruits of the whole earth to London’s table. And the quality of local British produce today, from cheeses to sparkling wine, is proof of how middle-class demand supports artisanal excellence.
- Finally, we should never forget to be thankful for our friendships. The antidote to both narrow tribalism and nationalist excess, friendship reveals the power of like minds associating across boundaries of family, class and distance. Socrates once said that he would rather have a good friend than all the gold of the Persian emperor Darius. The internet now makes it easier than ever to keep in touch with friends, wherever we are. But there is still nothing like celebrating together in person, as I will tonight. American or not, don’t forget to find time for your own moments of thanksgiving.