Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on April 17, 2017

in Civil Society, Trade

… is from page 44 of Nathan Oman’s 2016 book, The Dignity of Commerce:

UnknownExchange thus requires a kind of other-regardingness.  To be sure, it is not altruism.  Our concern with the advantages of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker is not the love of our neighbors.  Exchange does not require such love.  Commerce, however, is impossible when I am indifferent to the concerns of my trading partner.  In a more aristocratic age, tradespeople were an object of scorn precisely because of the servility that the market imposed on them.  Gentlemen possessed the luxury of satisfying their needs while maintaining indifference to others.  The tradesman, in contrast, could not afford hauteur because he was dependent on the satisfaction of others’ interests for the gratification of his own needs.

DBx: Quite so.  Even when trade results in increases in monetary differences (“inequality”) among people, trade decreases differences in treatment.  Trade discourages the treating of others with contempt, with scorn, or even with indifference.  Note also that Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and other merchant billionaires must be as attentive to the needs of their customers as is the corner florist and the local handyman.  Indeed, to become unusually wealthy in markets generally requires unusual success at anticipating and meeting the needs of others.  And it requires also a politeness toward countless others – toward customers and suppliers alike.

Trade not only enriches.  Trade polishes us (that is, trade makes us polite).  Trade brings into greater equality the treatment that people of very different social and economic standings are accorded in their market dealings.  Trade creates greater social equality even when it results in greater inequalities of monetary incomes and wealth.  As the title of Nate’s book suggests, trade dignifies.  Trade dignifies not only by requiring that each of us treat our fellows in markets with respect and attention, but also by according to each of us in markets the respect and attention of those which whom we deal.

Trade civilizes.  Obstructions to trade are, therefore, uncivilized and barbaric.


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