There’s a really great argument often used to defend the free market. Hard work is truly rewarding.

Now, in our entertainment-drunken culture, saying that hard work is rewarding can turn eyebrows skyward. ‘Putting in eight, ten, twelve hours can feel good? Gosh, we have all these labor laws and redistribution policies because it’s just plain wrong to make people work! The less work, the better! After all, slavery is when someone makes you work!’

Well no, not really. You always have the option to not work. In fact, only the consequences of that choice give pause. Or you can get a different job, or you can start your own enterprise. But you can always choose not to work.

What we are considering here is called a “work ethic”; the attitude of busting your hump to get a lot done. It’s a good thing to have. Employers like someone who has a good work ethic, because they’ll make sure to do their best to make the business succeed, give every task all they’ve got. People with a good work ethic rise quickly and nearly always become leaders in their industry or business.

Those who work hard usually have a feeling of accomplishment when it pays off; for them, for their company, for their customers. That last party, the customer, is the one I want to focus on here.

Usually when talking about work ethic, we mean that the person who works hard feels good because he has provided for his family, he wasn’t a slouch, he justified his employer giving him a raise and a promotion. He consistently does a good job!

But work isn’t just about employers and employees. It’s about customers. Every effort in the free market comes down to offering a product or service to customers, something that satisfies enough that they willingly part with their hard-earned money to make the purchase.

People feel good about a job well-done, not merely because they get a paycheck, but also because they have provided for someone else! A doctor can be happy when he delivers a healthy baby, because he put a miracle in the arms of parents. A bricklayer can be proud that he put up walls that will be a home for decades. A clothier can smile when he sees a family wearing his products.

Great scene from a great movie. Hairstyles have changed a bit since, though...
Great scene from a great movie. Hairstyles have changed a bit since Good Will Hunting, though…

Sean: You can do anything you want. You are bound by nothing. What are you passionate about? What do you want? I mean there are guys who work their entire lives laying brick so their kids have a chance at the opportunities you have here.

Will: I didn’t ask for this.

Sean: No! You were born with it, so don’t cop out behind “I didn’t ask for this.”

Will: What do you mean “cop out?” What’s wrong with laying brick?

Sean: Nothing.

Will: There’s nothing wrong with it! That’s someone’s— That’s somebody’s home I’m building!

Sean: Right! My dad laid brick. Okay? Busted his ass so I could have an education.

Will: Exactly! That’s an honorable profession! What’s wrong with fixing somebody’s car, so they can get to work the next day because of me? There’s honor in that!

Satisfaction is not snickering how you pulled a fast one over on some rube, not at all. This attitude that the free market is all about screwing people over is simply false. Sure, if your business can survive a horrendous reputation, you can screw over your customers every time.

The only place that ever happens is a monopoly and the only place where such monopolies survive is under a roof put up by government intervention in the marketplace.

No, almost all businesses understand that success is entirely founded upon satisfying the customer more often than the competitor down the street. Repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising are the rules of the day, especially in our age of overnight start-ups, internet review sites, and social media.

Caveat emptor? Let the buyer beware? Yeah, that still applies, but competition has almost made it a moot point. Good businesses do their level best to make it clear just what the deal is, and people have to be at least responsible enough to understand what they are spending their money on.

Is this an “on-your-own economy”, as it is vogue to claim these days?

Only in the sense that you are on your own to make your own decisions; what to buy, whom to buy it from, how to make the money you budget with, and what sort of work you’ll do. In other words, you’re free to choose how you live your life.

But you aren’t out there on your own so far as all that competition is concerned. Plenty of people out there would be more than happy to show you what you can buy from them, if you fancy their wares more than an alternative.

That “on-your-own economy” some people keep talking about? It’s nothing more than you having the right to control how you live your life. If that’s too lonely, join a book club. I know some great books you could read…

Sunlost(thumbnail)UW ThumbnailIf your hard work isn’t providing a service or product to someone that you can feel proud about, maybe it’s time to look at whether you’re actually doing the right thing with your life.