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Doux Commerce, avec Sourires

The first five or so minutes of an NPR “Morning Edition” broadcast this morning sounds as though it is the product of Reason TV.  It is a clip from the NPR series “Invisibilia.”  (Go here and then scroll down to “Invisibilia Season 2.”  Then hit the accompanying “Listen” button.)

In this clip, McDonald’s is positively portrayed as being an excellent, almost heroic, force for good.  McDonald’s manner of doing business is celebrated as changing social norms for the better – for making the world (or at least Russia) not only a more consumer-friendly place, but also a more pleasant, a more polite, a more respectful, and a (yes) more happy place.

Listeners are reminded at the start of the clip that Americans smile a lot, including at strangers.  Russians – and, especially, Russians under Soviet domination – did not smile very much.  Then McDonald’s opened in Moscow in 1990.  McDonald’s trains its workers to smile at customers, and to be polite and friendly.  We then learn – from one of the Russians who worked at that McDonald’s in Moscow – that that restaurant became a place of pleasant refuge for Muscovites.  The simple, smiling friendliness and politeness that Americans take for granted was, in Russia, actively sought after by many Russians and embraced by their choosing to dine at McDonald’s.

Commerce – voluntary exchange – is essential for what Deirdre McCloskey calls “market-tested betterment.”  This betterment, however – and Deirdre would agree – is manifested not only in new and better material products but also in the ways in which businesses treat consumers.  In market economies consumers are valuable to businesses; in these economies consumers are treated by businesses as respected guests.  In contrast, in non-market economies – in economies in which prices and profits are prevented from moving in market-clearing directions – consumers are treated by ‘businesses’ as repellant pests.

Even the last, short part of the “Morning Edition” segment of “Invisibilia” – the part that does not sound as though it was produced by Reason TV –  sings, albeit unintentionally, the praises of markets: businesses are so intent on pleasing their customers that they demand that workers who interact with customers bend over backwards to please even difficult customers.