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March Mania

OUR OPINION: Visible evidence of the invisible hand

For a reason to give thanks, look no further than the newspaper you're now reading online or holding in your hands.

No, not the Herald itself (though employees here are plenty grateful for the newspaper's continuing health).

Instead, just appreciate what the Thanksgiving issue of this and every other American daily newspaper represents:

Solid evidence of America's cornucopia, the "horn of plenty" that delivers truckloads of food to every grocery and trainloads of merchandise to every store.

Today more than any other day, you can sense the scale of that abundance by hefting this very newspaper, all 3.91 pounds of it.

Seven hundred and 14 advertising flyer pages, as Herald staff writer Ryan Bakken reported earlier this week. Thirty-one advertising flyers and 766 total pages, most of them replete with ads.

And all of it testifying to the power of the free market -- to Adam Smith's world-changing insight from 1776, which holds that if a man simply is left free to pursue "only his own gain," then "he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention" -- namely, the gain and good of society as a whole.

Today, we Americans remain largely free to pursue our own interests. The invisible hand, through its still-mysterious alchemy, smelts the base metal of that effort into 24-carat societal gold.

And the net result is evident in this and every Thanksgiving newspaper, in which merchants by the thousands vie for business and promise better living than ever before.

Has there ever been a comparable society on Earth?

Well, yes and no: Yes if you look at many other developed nations around the world (itself a fact that we should be grateful for), but no when you compare the period since 1776 with virtually all of human history that had come before.

And does this unprecedented creation of wealth also generate enormous problems, such as pollution, corruption and want?

Absolutely. But therein lies another reason for gratitude: our system of government (also dating to 1776), which tackles these problems in a democratic rather than a tyrannical way.

Understand, cutting up and serving the newspaper for dinner isn't recommended. Save that ritual for the turkey.

But give a nod to the evidence of prosperity that today's newspaper brings. And raise a glass to the invisible hand that has brought such plenty to so many doors.