James May is one of the stars of a BBC television show called Top Gear. He’s the long-haired fellow who argues about cars with the show’s short chap and the host, a big, loud gentleman. May often serves as both the scholar and the avatar of common sense. And then, occasionally, his enthusiasm veers off into a pleasant madness.
On TopGear.com he offers a fine essay on the joys of how things just work. He needed a new brake caliper for his aging auto, ordered it, and put it right in. “Nothing remarkable about that.” And yet, he has the wit to see that “nothing remarkable” is not quite right. Actually, he goes on, “it’s a matter for extreme wonderment.”
Precision isn’t easy. And yet precision is what we have, to amazing degrees, in the cars we rely upon.
In the manner of Adam Smith — who, in 1776’s Wealth of Nations, celebrated the complexity of building something as simple as a pin — May opines, “That something as complex as a car can be owned by ordinary people is, I think, one of the greatest achievements of humanity. It can be attributed to improved standards of living,” he concludes, and is “bloody marvelous.”
Yes. We may take things like cars for granted, but they aren’t “a given.” Their very existence depends on worldwide markets and a great degree of freedom.
Which we must also not take for granted.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.