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The Mercantilist Rules of Acquisition

In part of this post I ridiculed Star Trek‘s writers’ misunderstanding of capitalism as this misunderstanding is revealed in the “Ferengi Rules of Acquisition” – which, were they really rules followed by actual merchants, would quickly lead to those merchants’ bankruptcy.

In a comment on this post, Greg White writes:

Such views of capitalism are not uncommon.

On a trip, I asked a former manager “what is capitalism” and he said it was “take whatever you can and screw everyone else.” (Seriously. I’ve gotten other similar definitions.)

Greg is correct about the prevalence of this fallacy.  And to supply further evidence of just how widespread is the belief in this fallacy, not long after Greg posted his comment, the hyper-mercantilist Warren Platts, a regular commenter at Cafe Hayek, wrote the following in the comments section:

“take whatever you can and screw everyone else.”

I like that. At least it is honest….

Mr. Platts’s comment opens a view into the mind of the mercantilist – and the view isn’t pretty.  First, it reveals the belief that trade is zero-sum.  If trade really were, as mercantilists suppose, zero-sum, then Jones’s well-being is improved by trade with Smith only insofar as Smith’s well-being is reduced by trade with Jones.  In such a world, any gains that Smith might enjoy from the trade come at Jones’s expense, so why shouldn’t Jones attempt to take as much from Smith as possible?

Second and more importantly, this Ferengi/mercantilist attitude, while not that of actual business people operating in free markets, is that of actual protectionists seeking and exploiting government-granted privileges.  The protectionist does seek to “screw everyone else” in order to artificially bloat his or her sales and profits.  Indeed, protectionists’ artificially increased sales and profits come only because and insofar as everyone else is well and royally screwed.

So remember, folks, you have here from Mr. Warren Platts a frank revelation that protectionists really do believe that peaceful, voluntary trade is nothing more than a process of each party trying to screw the other.  (Perhaps protectionists actually enjoy screwing others.  And upon discovering that in real-world markets such screwing of others doesn’t pay off, protectionists naturally gravitate to that arena in which screwing others is the name of the game – namely, the special-privilege-granting state.)

Note that, in yet another comment on this same Star Trek post, Clark O’Gara wisely observes that

The Ferengi were always much more mercantilist than capitalist. Not just philosophically but their dress and approach to women was very feudal.