What makes my life good?

By Ashley Bean Thornton

What makes my life good?  I’m not talking about “spiritual good.”  I’m talking about “comfortable/easy” good – “warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot” good. “Turn the key in the ignition and the car starts” good.  “Get pretty much whatever book I want whenever I want it and have at least a little time to read it” good. “Grab a Diet Coke and a sausage biscuit at Whataburger every morning” good.  

What makes my life that kind of good? The answer is overwhelmingly complicated.  

I have to live on a planet that has the raw materials necessary for all that goodness – the fuel to make the heater and air conditioner run, the wood and stone and everything else to build the house connected to the heater and air conditioner, the metal for the key and the car, the trees to make the paper for the book, the pigs and flour for the sausage biscuit, the whatever-it-is that Diet Coke is made of…

I have to live in a society where people have the time, the expertise, and the motivation to do all the millions and billions of tasks necessary to create every little piece of that goodness – to invent the heater and air conditioner and build it and install it and maintain it, to build the car and sell it to me, to refine the fuel and sell it to me, to write the book and print it and deliver it to me, to raise the wheat to make the flour to make the biscuit, to feed the hogs, to slaughter the hogs, to make the sausage, to get up at four in the morning to cook the sausage and smile at me when I come to buy it.

I have to have a government to maintain enough peace for all those people to do all those tasks, to gather our collective resources and efforts to build the roads that bring the metal from where it is mined to where it is rolled into sheets to where it is finally made into a car, to educate the people who invent and maintain the air conditioners, to make sure everyone gets paid for their work and pays for the things they use.

I have to be born and raised and educated.  I have to figure out what job I can do to earn some money.  I have to find someone who wants that job done and talk them into hiring me. I have to do the work, and somebody has to pay me.  My paycheck has to clear the bank.  The bank has to protect my money for me and have it available for me when I want it.

These few paragraphs barely, barely describe the tiniest micromillimeter of one strand of the huge economic web needed to create the tiniest part of what makes my life good. 

And yet…somehow it all happens.  In fact, at least for me, it happens so regularly and so seamlessly that I mostly take it for granted.  I am so spoiled by everything working well that when something doesn’t work, I get aggravated.  The air conditioner guy can’t come till next week? The price of gas shoots up? That book from Amazon takes a couple weeks to get here instead of a couple of days? The doors at Whataburger are locked because they can’t get enough staff for the morning shift? What’s happening?  My very aggravation is a testament to the fact that I expect the “default” to be smooth sailing.

I am happy to give almost all of the credit for managing this unimaginably complicated system to the good old “invisible hand” of capitalism.  Sure, we’ve tweaked and tightened a bit here and there with government regulation and oversite, but “the hand” is certainly doing most of the work of keeping all this organized,and doing it really well.

But how did I get to be the lucky one who has the good life? And will I keep on being this lucky?

Could it be that the whole system has gotten so complicated that we are reaching the limits of what even the all-powerful “invisible hand” can handle smoothly?

After all, the system doesn’t work as well for a whole lot of folks as it does for me.  Even here in the land of plenty, inflation takes enough of a bite out of many already small paychecks to make it tough to pay for both gas and air conditioning.  An unexpected medical bill or time off work can send a family budget into a tailspin.  It takes a while for these problems to become my problems … but eventually they do.  The web of our economy is huge and complicated, but it is still a web. What affects you affects me…eventually. 

Have we gotten to that eventuality?  Are the delicate strands of the web starting to stretch and break enough that even those of us who are living the good life need to begin to take notice?

The world was plenty complicated in 1776 when Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations and introduced the world to the invisible hand.  Perhaps it is not just a coincidence that in that same year a few rabble rousers in New England introduced the world to what has become the USA. 

However complicated the world might have been then, it is many orders of magnitude more complicated now.  For one thing there are a whole lot more of us.  Thanks to our technology, we are both more connected and more divided than ever before.  We have more THINGS than Adam Smith and Benjamin Franklin could have ever dreamed, and we are depleting natural resources that Mr. Smith and Mr. Franklin never imagined might run in short supply.

Are we OK with the thinking that helped us find our way in 1776 and has served us well (with a few bumps along the way) until now?  Or is it possible we have created a world so complicated that we need to re-think some of our most basic understanding of how the world works?  Does the invisible hand, need a hand?  Do we need to make the hand more visible so that we can see who it is helping and who it is hurting? Or do we need a whole new paradigm?   Would we make things worse meddling with the “freedom” of the “free market” system?  Or will things get worse if we don’t do something? There is a risk either way, right?  And as much as we passionately espouse our theories (educated or not) on one side or the other, we don’t really know till we try.


  1. Margo Yeager on March 17, 2023 at 7:06 pm

    Very informative and well written. We all need to think through our “good” life. It would be good if people could see who was helped and hurt by government and company activities.

  2. Jerri Love on March 17, 2023 at 8:12 pm

    I just love reading your stuff.

  3. Charles on March 19, 2023 at 11:45 pm

    It would be best if we just leave it alone.

  4. Gwen Luikart on March 27, 2023 at 12:02 pm

    Keep up the good work!

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