MINOT, N.D. — One of the wonders of our free society is that nobody is required to do much of anything.

Sure, there are certain imperatives. We all need food and shelter, and getting those basics requires effort. Yet our society enjoys a level of convenience and wealth which would be almost unimaginable to our ancestors.

It happens, amazingly, in the absence of central planning.

Most of us have, in our pockets, a gizmo of the ilk once concocted the science fiction writers to wow their audiences. That gizmo is now a ubiquitous part of our culture.

At our fingertips, almost everywhere we go, is access to nearly the entirety of human knowledge. Not to mention the ability to video call someone on the other side of the globe or post text or pictures or video, which could reach a potential audience of millions, all using services that are mostly free for the public to access.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Any one of us could walk out our front door, get in a car and travel across the country on safe and reliable roads, and it would cost us nothing more than the price of snacks and a few tanks of gas, all of which is readily available for convenient access along said roads.

We have such food abundance that obesity is a more significant health risk to Americans than hunger. For some, access to food is still a problem, but our current situation is a dramatic departure from the past.

When we turn up the thermostat, heat fills our homes. When we flip the switch, the lights reliably come on (unless you're living in California, but that's a political problem).

For entertainment, we have access, for free or for a nominal fee, to just about every movie or television show or book ever produced, all without leaving our homes. Even if we do leave our homes, we can bring access to all that content with us on the gizmos I've already mentioned.

I could go on, but let me get to my point.

We take this stuff for granted. We don't spend a lot of time thinking about how it all came to be.

We should.

What I'm thankful for this holiday is the spontaneous order of our free society. What economist and philosopher Adam Smith called, in his "Wealth of Nations," the "invisible hand."

No law requires farmers to farm. We have no commissars forcing web developers to provide us with Twitter. No medical researcher is chained to a desk, forced by diktat to cure diseases.

Every year our lives are improved, mostly in small ways but sometimes profoundly, by scientific advancements or technological discoveries which are produced by people working voluntarily.

It doesn't always work this way. Places like the Soviet Union of the past, or China today, dictate what is produced, and how, through central planners.

Our prosperity and quality of life surpass that of the people living under those regimes.

We accomplish that while simultaneously telling our children they can aspire to be anything they want to be.

It is a wonder, as I've already said, and something worth being thankful for this holiday.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.