A Working Economy of Strangers
By David Henderson
When I was young, I didn’t travel much, and when I did, I always worried. How will I get where I’m going? When I leave the airport, how will I get to the hotel? Who will take care of me? This fear was similar to the fear I had–growing up in Carman, Manitoba, population not quite 2,000–of traveling to Winnipeg, which to me seemed to be a giant city with its population of over half a million. Now that I’ve traveled, I understand that taxi drivers, hotel bellmen, and a host of others will take care of me because their well-being depends on it. When traveling in a strange country, you have to be cautious, of course. But what was striking to me was how much my caution exceeded my need for it.
This is from “The Joy of Capitalism,” Chapter 8 of my book The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey.
I thought back to that yesterday. I needed to interrupt my vacation in Canada for a few days and fly to a major American city. I found myself worrying. Even though I wrote the words above 14 years ago, I still occasionally find that when I travel to a major city that I haven’t traveled to in a while and in which I’m not visiting friends who will take care of me, I worry. How will things work?
A whole bunch of things needed to work. The flight needed to get in roughly on time so that I could rendezvous with my wife. It did. Then I needed to get a rental car. The rental car company, Enterprise, was great. They upgraded me to a full-size car for the price of the subcompact. This city has a lot of toll roads and I hadn’t thought to bring change. No problem: Enterprise offered me a toll pass for $6.99 a day. I needed to drive to my wife’s hotel to pick her up. This part is even better than when I went to Winnipeg as a kid: my wife had gone on line to get directions and, as I’m sure you know, we can get good directions at a zero price. And they worked. We were early for our meeting and so we checked in to the hotel. The hotel had no contractual obligation to let us check in before 3:00 p.m., but the woman behind the counter, Ann, was very nice and let us check in at 12:45 p.m.
I know that these are all prosaic details for anyone who has traveled even a little. But that’s the point. They’re the things we’ve got used to because they almost always work so well. And get this: not a single person I dealt with–the pilot of the airplane, the shuttle driver who took me to the rental car place, the rep, Alex, at the rental car place, or the woman, Ann, at the hotel–knew me. This economy of strangers works. And it often works with a smile.