The Strangers Who Work For You
Religion & Liberty Online

The Strangers Who Work For You

As we approach Labor Day here in the U.S., it’s good to ponder “work”, that most ordinary feat nearly all of us perform every day. We get up, get dressed, and do our jobs. It’s quite simple…and quite amazing. There is a lovely reflection on this from Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek:

Ponder this astonishing fact: Each and every thing that we consume today in market societies is something that requires the coordinated efforts of millions of people, yet each of us is able to command possession and use of these things in exchange for only a small fraction of our work time.

Why aren’t more people blown away with the pure splendor and marvelousness of it all?!

Boudreaux wants us to note that more changes have taken place in the last 200 years or so since our nation’s founding, then in the 1800 years prior.

Millie and Johan living, say, in 1000 A.D. likely grew their own food, produced their own clothing, and built their own hovel.  And if they didn’t personally – with their own hands – produce something that they consumed, they personally knew the person, or small group of people, who produced these things for them.  Relatively rare were the consumption items produced through a complex system of economic cooperation by large numbers of people most of whom were strangers to the peasants who consumed the items.

Not so today.  Nearly everything (and I’m tempted to drop the qualifier “nearly”) that an ordinary American or Spaniard or Australian consumes today is an item that is the result, and could only be the result, of the productive actions of millions of people, almost none of whom is known to the persons doing the consumption.

What will you touch today, he asks, that you made on your own? What will you use today that came strictly from the work of your own hands?

Nearly everything that you consume requires, for its production and its availability to you, the efforts of literally millions of people – almost none of whom you know or will ever know.

A marvelous thing to ponder: the strangers who work for us, with us, to create the world we work in, live in, worship in, play in, create in.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.