While picking up some Valentine chocolates for my bride of 29 years at the grocery store the other day, I saw a large display of beautiful roses near the front of the store: bright reds, dark reds, pinks, in various arrangements, some with baby’s breath, etc. mixed in for good measure.
Picking up a bouquet, I noticed a label on the plastic wrapper: Product of Ecuador. (That’s the geography teacher in me; I can’t turn it off.)
Ecuador, which straddles the equator (hence the nation’s name), is some 2,500 miles away from Virginia. (To put it another way, that is about the same distance from Roanoke to California.) Still, enterprising growers in that Andean country and a chain of merchants between there and here collaborate to get a huge supply of the fresh-cut roses to us each year for Valentine’s Day.
Considering the supply chain issues we have been facing–that same store with a big array of roses had many empty shelves devoid of groceries–I think the generous display of fresh flowers is even more remarkable.
Of course, people can grow roses here in Virginia–just not outside, in February. The day I bought the roses, the Roanoke Valley was bedecked in a beautiful snow. Lovely to look at, but not conducive to flower-growing.
In sum, not only are the roses beautiful, they also show that capitalism is beautiful. (Notice, I did not say “perfect.” In our flawed world filled with flawed people, nothing is perfect, and seeking perfection with the belief that you will fully attain it is not only futile, but a terrible waste of time.)
This is how the roses show the beauty of capitalism. Producers in Ecuador grow roses and sell them at a profit. Middlemen operate fleets of trucks to get them to the airport. Planes fly them to the US. Then, American truckers take over, fan out, and get them in stores. Then, clerks stock the displays so we consumers can easily pick up a bouquet on the way home. The truck drivers, pilots, and grocery stockers all get paid a wage. The store owner turns a profit. The consumer gets pretty flowers at a reasonable price. Everyone wins, because each person participates in the system voluntarily. No one forces the store to carry roses. No one forces the consumer to buy them.
When you think how perishable fresh roses are, the speed and distances involved are remarkable. Moreover, this process begins in one socio-linguistic group (Latin American) and ends in a very different one (the US). Yet, the whole system seems to flow seamlessly.
Whether from ill-intent to destroy our system that gives so many such a high standard of living or from mal-education or misinformation, many today disparage capitalism or even call for its overthrow.
Having traveled in the former Soviet Union twice, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, etc., I can assure you, the communist system does a terrible job of providing consumer goods and a high standard of living. (The soul-crushing and mind-control tyranny of communism are another topic for another column.) And if you read carefully and know your history, you will realize the three nations I just cited no longer exist. There is a reason for that too. The system was deeply flawed.
While disparaging capitalism, many still enjoy its benefits by buying products that make our lives more comfortable and fulfilling, even products that come from far overseas. Meanwhile, some of those detractors believe that governments can do a better job providing goods and services.
To those folks I would ask: can you imagine the speed and quality if the DMV went into the cut-flower business?
Three Cheers for Capitalism, and Happy Valentine’s Day!