A few evenings ago I looked out of my kitchen window and saw an airplane’s vapor trail in the sunset – a beautiful, bright, clean, orange line cutting through the clouds. At that moment I had brief but unmistakable feeling of optimism about the human race.
For one thing, jet airplanes are a marvel of engineering. Hundreds of thousands of people collaborated to create them, maybe even millions if you include the scientists who worked out the principles of flight and jet propulsion, the inventors and engineers who applied those principles, the entrepreneurs who created an airline industry, and the pilots, air traffic controllers, technicians, and support staff who keep it all running. Think of everything that goes into an aircraft and try to count the number of people involved. Don’t forget the avionics, the bathrooms, and the in-flight entertainment system. (Maybe leave out the food, and definitely leave out the homeland security people.)
Then consider the manner by which all those people collaborated. Nobody was coerced, and it wasn’t necessary to gather everyone into a giant room to plan it all. Rather, it all came about gradually over the course of decades, fueled by a combination of personal initiative, market forces, and government action. It’s one of the greatest triumphs of managed capitalism. (We are all Keynesians now.) In Europe aircraft are made by English, French, and German people working together. Could anyone imagine that fifty years ago? Economic integration is the primary force protecting us from another world war.
But what’s most amazing is that flying is routine. At the tip of that orange line in the sky was a silver tube filled with people having dinner, reading newspapers, and generally acting as though it’s not a big deal to shoot through the sky at 600 miles per hour. But it is.