Reflections on Freedom in New York
By David Henderson
I’m stuck in New York after my early a.m. flight out was cancelled. Because the hotel I was in had no rooms available for tonight, I had to find another hotel. Fortunately, the Holiday Inn Express three short blocks away was available. The hotel I was in let me extend by an hour and the Holiday Inn Express let me check in early and so I didn’t have to wait to get to my room. When I asked the beautiful young woman at the counter, from the Dominican Republic, about the Chinese restaurant next door, she gave me the takeout menu of a Chinese restaurant that she recommended instead, one that has “free” delivery.
I’m feeling sick and headachy and so I went to a local drug store for some meds. There was a long line but there were three cash registers operating and I was through in about two minutes.
Because I persuaded United to fly me to San Diego instead of back to Monterey (I would have got back to Monterey too late to catch my flight to San Diego for a Liberty Fund conference), I’m short on clothing. So I bought a nice dress shirt on sale at a store on Fifth Ave. The man behind the counter, who was friendly and helpful, was dark-skinned and had an accent. I asked him if he was from Iran. He is. When he saw that it was just my curiosity at work and not some kind of negative judgment on my part, he warmed up more. When I asked him his name, it sounded complicated, and I spelled it correctly the first time, he was pleased.
Why do I tell these stories? Because, when I think of New York city abstractly, I think of a city that doesn’t work. Taxes are high, there are too many crowds, people are pushy and unfriendly, etc. Then, when I actually experience New York, I see how well it works. People are trying to give me what I want, at a fairly low price. The immigrants I run into–and there have been many over the last two days–don’t seem to have come here for welfare but for opportunity to get wealthier. And people are friendly.
Why are people friendly? Partly because I love people and I’m friendly to them. But also partly because they are paid to be friendly; they do better by being friendly to customers. As I laid out in The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey, markets create virtue. Part of virtue is simple friendliness and helpfulness.
I remember talking with my friend, the late Roy Childs, on a 1988 visit to New York, about how well New York works, even with all the big government institutions around. The metaphor he came up with is that government is not a cancer; it’s more like a leech. It sucks blood but there’s still a lot of blood left.