Business and Industry

Don Boudreaux's Rich Inheritance


George Mason economist and Cafe Hayek blogger Don Boudreaux has written a moving obituary for his recently deceased father in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It's a strong reminder that, at the end of the day, free and wealthy societies depend on the quietly heroic efforts of successive generations that rarely understand each other's contributions with much clarity.

He dropped out of school in the sixth grade, but as an adult he earned his GED. When he married my late mother, at the age of 22, he was a bus driver in New Orleans. Dad soon left that job to work as a pipe fitter at Avondale Shipyards, which at the time was one of that city's largest employers.

The typical American who would learn of the financial resources now passing down to my three siblings and me would say that we have virtually no inheritance. That's true only financially….

I remember also one of the summers that I worked at the shipyard—in an air-conditioned office! One day my duties took me out onto one of the platens [small construction sites] where you were working. It was mid-summer; the temperature was in the upper 90s. I saw you welding. When you saw me, you pulled back your welding mask and, smiling, yelled. 'How ya doin', son?!' You were happy to see me.

I recall staring at you, because that was the first time that I saw just how incredibly hard you worked to support your family. You were wearing a thick denim shirt, soaked with sweat. I thought to myself, 'Geez. He does stuff like this every day!' I was impressed and humbled.

The whole piece reminded me of Joseph Schumpter's fears that the privileged quickly learn to take the creation of wealth, and hence the ability to have more options for how to live and to create even more possibilities, is taken for granted. So much so that the ability to create wealth disappears rapidly and sometimes catastrophically. More here.

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  1. After my freshman year in college I landed a summer internship at a tech firm. I was assigned to the same plant where my father worked. All I knew is that he worked there, I really had no idea what he did.

    In orientation some of the people asked if I was related to the senior engineer with the same name (our last name has a unique spelling). “Senior engineer? I dunno’, Is he?”

    About the third day of work my manager asked my father to give me a tour of the clean rooms (production line). He showed me how to get into a bunny suit, then pointed out the scores of robots he had built, explained the patents the company had bought from him, and how he worked with programmers, electrical engineers, chemists, metallurgists, and line workers to make it all happen. His NDA had prevented him from talking about it at home.

    I came to respect my father’s work that day. He probably never broke a sweat on his shift, but he taught me that the fruits of one’s labor are usually unseen by the masses who use their products or services.

  2. I had kind of the opposite experience as Boudreaux, although it certainly had a salutary effect.

    My father would talk to his buddies in our small town to get me summer jobs. And they were brutal – 80 hour weeks as a farm hand, heavy construction, maintenance at the plant he managed. His plan was to let my lazy teenage ass get a good look at my future if I didn’t keep my grades up and my eye on the ball.

    It worked.

  3. Since Schumpeter aped assiduously the manners of the landed aristocracy, for whom the whole point of life was not to work at all, and mourned their disappearance, the learned Joseph’s moralizing grates on some of us (or, at least, one of us).

  4. Joseph Schumpter’s fears that the privileged quickly learn to take the creation of wealth, and hence the ability to have more options for how to live and to create even more possibilities, is taken for granted. So much so that the ability to create wealth disappears rapidly and sometimes catastrophically.

    Mister President, are you paying attention?

    I didn’t think so.

  5. First sentence, last paragraph: delete the words “is taken.”

  6. His plan was to let my lazy teenage ass get a good look at my future if I didn’t keep my grades up and my eye on the ball.

    Yeah, there is nothing like having a job that sucks to make you study hard in college.

  7. a) final, not last (last = most recent, as in last night, last year)

    b) “First sentence, final paragraph” s/b “Final paragraph, first sentence.” Centripetal indications direct your reader’s attention to its target without reverse searches through your instructions.

  8. The example set by my old man was similar to the one by Boudreaux’s father. I didn’t get it growing up, but I appreciate the sacrifices that he and my mother made to put food on the table and get us kids educated. I do think that the ethic did rub off on me, even though I may not have known it at the time. Both he and I reap the benefits of it today.

    What’s the old adage? The first generation starts it and get’s it off the ground, the children take it and make it into something great and the grand kids waste it.

  9. Grammar Police, Department of Internal Affairs

    Here are my badge, gun and edition of Strunk & White, sir.

    (grumbling) Bastards never fixed the copy, anyway…

  10. In the vocative, Sir is capitalized.

    Penitence invokes absolution. Take up thy bed and walk. Go, and, like, y’know, sin no more. Like. 😉

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