… is from page 182 of my colleague Peter Boettke’s September 2013 speech given at a conference, in honor of James Buchanan, at George Mason University, “What Should Classical Liberal Political Economists Do?”, as this speech is reprinted in Pete’s 2021 book, The Struggle for a Better World:
In the starkest way possible, it is important to remember that while [Adam] Smith identified the human propensity to truck, barter and exchange, Hobbes and others had also identified the human propensity to rape, pillage and plunder unless constrained. Whether men are Smithian or Hobbesian in their behavioral propensities is a function of the rules of the game under which they operate. If the costs of raping, pillaging and plundering are less than the benefits, then the ‘society’ under examination will indeed resemble the Hobbesian jungle. If the costs of predation are raised, and the benefits of cooperation are greater, then Smithian wealth creation through realizing the mutual gains from trade will be the foundation of the social order.
DBx: Indisputably true.
Deirdre McCloskey would add – and, I’m sure, Pete would agree – that the “rules of the game” are heavily determined by the way we talk to and about each other, as well as the way we talk to and about others. The words we use very much affect the way we, and those with whom we communicate, think. And, of course, the way we think very much affects the way we act regarding both ourselves and toward others.
If the words we use to describe predatory activities are sweet and forgiving, or even approving, we and those with whom we communicate will too often mistake predation for production. If the words we use to describe productive activities are harsh and unforgiving, or even hostile, we and those with whom we communicate will too often mistake production for predation.
If we use words with negative connotations to describe positive-sum activities or outcomes, we and those with whom we communicate will grow hostile to activities or outcomes that we should celebrate and welcome. If we use words with positive connotations to describe negative-sum activities or outcomes, we and those with whom we communicate will greet with approval activities and outcomes that we should fear and reject.