It’s an odd fact of the human condition that we take extraordinary things for granted. As soon as a good thing becomes commonplace, we assume that its presence is just the ordinary state of affairs, and we forget to be grateful for it. On the other hand, the loss of a good thing often causes us to appreciate it anew. This may never be more true than when your air conditioner goes out right before summer hits in Texas.
Recently, my central AC unit stopped blowing cold air. Being springtime in Houston, this was a big deal that was going to get bigger very rapidly as summer began to swelter. I did some preliminary tests, and determined that the compressor was dead. I could have replaced the compressor and extended the life of the rest of the unit, but since the whole system was pushing 20 years old I decided it would be a better investment to chuck it all out and start from scratch.
As I write this, a crew of HVAC technicians is gutting my system and one of their colleagues is en route with a brand new unit. They are doing great work, and I’m deeply grateful that the market provides these services and that I don’t have to be an expert in air conditioning to fix my problem. Given all the variables, I value their expertise more than my money, and am happy to pay these competent men to do the work for me.
This is what the division of labor in the economy is all about. Some people specialize in one thing so that others don’t have to. They offer their expertise to the market—which is properly understood not as an ethereal abstraction but simply as the aggregate of other human beings who consume goods and services—and ask a fair price in compensation.
Other people specialize in other things, and so on and so forth. No one forces anyone to do anything, but the net result is that society is enriched with a plethora of specialized knowledge. This knowledge is maintained and constantly improved by the competent men and
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