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Donald J. Boudreaux: Counting his blessings

Recently I underwent a medical procedure. Although minor, the procedure did involve general anesthesia. And while I wasn’t very fretful before being put asleep, I confess to reflecting a bit more philosophically than I normally do on my life.

“What if I don’t wake up?” I thought. As unpleasant as that thought is, it was swamped by my realization that I’ve already lived a life far more rich, comfortable and worry free than did the vast majority of my ancestors. My good fortune of having been born in the post-World War II United States alone makes me one of the luckiest human beings ever to draw a breath.

First of all, I live during the age of anesthesiology. Just the thought of enduring even minor surgery without the blessing of anesthesia is horrifying. I have never had to suffer that thought. Also, I was tended to by a scientifically trained surgeon. I enjoy a far better chance of being cured than I would have enjoyed even if I were the world’s richest man prior to the 20th century.

In my 57 years on this Earth, I’ve not once suffered the fear of starvation. Prior to the industrial age, not many people outside of the ruling class could have made that boast.

Also, I’ve always slept under a hard roof in a house with hard floors — which are far superior to the vermin-infested thatched roofs and dirt floors that the vast majority of my and your ancestors were accustomed to.

Here are just some of the many other ways that my life — that of an ordinary middle-class American of the early 21st century — differs from the lives of ordinary people prior to the Industrial Revolution.

• Assuming I don’t start playing ice hockey, I’ll keep all of my real teeth for 80 or 90 years.

• I’ve never been at any real risk of suffering the loss of a child.

• I’m literate.

• I’ve traveled from my home in North America to three other continents using an aluminum tube that flies through the sky at speeds that no one even as recently as 100 years ago experienced.

• Every day, I travel on land, to and fro, in automobiles that allow me routinely to cover in one hour a distance that even the elite until less than 200 years ago took at least a full day to cover. And I make my automobile trips in far greater comfort than was available to any passengers in the horse-drawn coaches of the past.

• I dine, sleep, work and play in rooms that stay at about the same comfortable, humidity-controlled temperature — 72 degrees Fahrenheit — year-round, even as the outdoor temperature ranges through the year from zero to 100.

• I routinely talk in real time to loved ones, friends and merchants who are many miles away from being within earshot of my natural voice.

• I can listen to many people perform beautiful music as I sit alone in my living room or drive alone along a lonely road. And if I grow tired of listening, say, to the Vienna Philharmonic perform Beethoven symphonies, I can summon immediately John, Paul, George and Ringo to entertain me with songs about a boy wanting to hold a girl’s hand or about strawberry fields.

Even if I were to die today, my life would count as one of the richest and fullest in all humanity.

Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.


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