Imagine a person who embodies all the virtues of free-market capitalism. I’m guessing Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi is at the bottom of your list. Let me explain why she should be at the top.

Snooki is a great example of the relationship between wages and productivity, which is one of the tightest statistical correlations in the social sciences. You might not like the fact that Snooki gets paid millions of dollars to get drunk and make imprudent decisions. However, if she weren’t incredibly productive, MTV wouldn’t be paying her a dime.

MTV doesn’t pay Snooki millions as an expression of altruism. It pays her millions because she produces droves of a good for which consumer demand is exceptionally high: entertainment. Snooki has generated more economic activity over the past few years than many of us will in an entire lifetime.

Consider how many people are employed as a direct result of the immense popularity of “Jersey Shore” — directors, producers, cameramen, film editors and publicists, not to mention all of the people working for companies whose products Snooki endorses. This is to say nothing of Viacom’s shareholders, who saw the company’s domestic ad revenues go up by eight percent in 2010, thanks in part to the success of “Jersey Shore.”

In a free-market society, people are paid to produce things other people want. Like it or not, people voluntarily engage in market transactions with Snooki every time they tune in to “Jersey Shore.” As long as they continue to do so, her productive labor will be worth every last penny she earns.

Another economic lesson we can learn from Snooki is that free markets create wealth. For roughly 70,000 years, the average person lived on a dollar a day. With the advent of capitalism approximately 200 years ago, living standards in societies that adopted free markets started to skyrocket. For example, today’s average American lives on about $131 a day. This means that over the past two centuries, the average American’s standard of living has increased by more than 13,000 percent.

To quote George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux, “For 99.7 percent of the time that we bipedal, scantily haired, language-blessed apes have trod this globe, we did so under material conditions that you and I from 2011 would find utterly intolerable .” Thanks to free-market capitalism, however, we bipedal, scantily haired, language-blessed apes are now able to enjoy a level of material well-being our ancestors could scarcely have imagined.

Through the division of labor and technological innovation, capitalism has increased economic efficiency and generated a tremendous amount of real wealth. As a result, we can afford to divert resources toward the production of relatively frivolous consumer goods like reality television shows. Love her or hate her, Snooki is a luxury good that nobody would have been able to afford prior to the rise of free markets.

Furthermore, while our ancestors spent the majority of their days engaging in subsistence labor activities, such as hunting and gathering, people today spend large portions of their days engaging in leisure activities. Thanks to capitalism, many of us no longer have to spend our days toiling in the woods. Consequently, we can afford to divert our most scarce resource of all — time — toward leisure, be it in the form of basketball, music, books or “Jersey Shore.”

Snooki is evidence that we live in a prosperous society in which government protects the rights of individuals to own and trade private property. As crazy as it may sound, we are incredibly lucky to live in a society where Snooki’s success is possible because this means we are living in a society that is both rich and free.