I write this from the playground at a McDonald’s just off of Interstate 81 in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we’ve just finished a predictable McDonald’s lunch and are burning some restless energy before getting back in the car. It has me thinking about some of the most important implications of free markets: we don’t have to know one another’s goals in order to help one another achieve them, and even when we may not fully understand why other people do something, there’s probably a good reason for it.
Consider fast food. I enjoy exploring out-of-the-way places and discovering out-of-the-way culinary delights, but things change dramatically on a multi-day road trip involving two kids in diapers.
First, I don’t know any of the people at this particular restaurant, nor am I particularly close to any major McDonald’s shareholders. Nonetheless, we are able to cooperate to mutual advantage.
Second, I’ve said before that having children has made me a better economist and indeed, an economist who appreciates Hayek’s work on knowledge even more. I’ve asked-and heard many others ask-”why would (whoever) do that? It makes no sense to me.” Perhaps you’ve heard someone question others’ choices about eating fast food, for example. Traveling with kids has given me a solid appreciation for fast food restaurants, particularly with playgrounds. Getting older and having kids has helped me appreciate things I never thought to notice before the kids came along. Fast food restaurants with playgrounds are near the top of that list: peole invested valuable resources in building these things because they anticipated (correctly) that they would be a godsend to generations of traveling families.
And before someone says “but we probably wouldn’t have giant chains without enormous subsidies to freeways and the like,” I’ll be the first to say that’s probably true. That’s no knock against chains like McDonald’s, though. That’s a knock against road subsidies. The same phenomenon I just described would still exist, just in a different manifestation.