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.