I was in China a few years ago with my oldest daughter. We were slightly off the beaten path walking through a village situated among several canals.
Keep in mind that China has only recently emerged from being a Third World country. The canals were beautiful, but they weren’t like the upscale Venice or Vienna canals, lined with cafes and hotels.
These were working canals, lined with small one- and two-room wood and stucco homes that sat right up against canals. They didn’t have running water. Women were doing their wash in the canal.
I’m always interested in how people live. A long, slow walk through a residential area gives you an opportunity to observe daily life in another part of the world.
The main thing I noticed was the floors. The homes were all jammed next to each other sharing common walls, and the exteriors looked pretty much the same. The backs were to the canal, and the front doors were right onto the street, with no yard or buffer zone between the homes and the street.
As the locals went about their business, going in and out of their homes, opening and closing their doors, I noticed that while most of the homes had dirt floors, a few had tile floors.
Walking farther, I observed that the people with dirt floors opened and closed their doors quickly, getting in and out fast, with their heads down, as if to avoid letting anyone see inside their home. Those with tile floors were more eager to swing their doors open. They were more likely to be selling something like hand-carved wood items or fans. Some even had beauty salons and barbershops in their front rooms.
Ever the businessperson, I said to my daughter, “This would be a great place to be a tile salesperson.” A few blocks later, we happened upon the Chinese version of Home Depot, and I saw that I was right.
It’s a metal building about as big as a suburban home. The roof is about 15 feet high, and one side of the building is completely open. It’s crammed with light fixtures, hardware, lumber and, yes, plenty of tile.
Lined up around the edges were the Chinese contractors and their three-wheeled motorbikes with flatbeds on the back, buying supplies and carting them off to improve someone’s home.
There was an energy there; it was vibrant and alive.
The contractors were buying things and selling them. They were making money; they were improving their lives; they were giving people pride in their home.
That was the difference between the doors that were open and those that were shut – pride. Other parts of China had felt grim and hopeless. But that hardware store was buzzing.
At that moment, any ambiguity I had about capitalism was gone. I realized that making money – putting money into motion – creates energy.
Can you imagine a flourishing society without access to goods and services?
Those Chinese tile contractors were engaged in a noble cause. They were bringing the energy of commerce to their people.
Some people have abused capitalism. Some people have also abused families. But we don’t suggest that families are a bad system. Human endeavors will always be fraught with errors.
The beauty of capitalism is that it gives people the power to control their own destiny and to add value to the lives of others.
I love people, and I love capitalism.