Our complex system of economic relations puts us in command of the co-operation necessary to accomplish our purposes, independently of a complete coincidence between our purposes and our own faculties, and independently also of our being able to command the effective sympathy of persons possessing all the necessary faculties that we lack.
DBx: The market is beautiful. It is that system through which each of us taps into the talents, knowledge, and material possessions of others in exchange only for our agreeing to allow these others the ability to tap into our own talents, knowledge, and material possessions. Each person is free to say ‘no’ to any offer, but is also free to make to any other person or persons peaceful offers – offers that the offerees may accept or reject. This ability to say ‘no’ ensures that all exchanges are mutually beneficial.
I know, I know. I sound like Pollyanna. But I insist on the importance of this simple insight. While no one in his or her right mind would ever suggest that the market works ‘perfectly’ (by any reasonable standard), it’s important to look around and take stock of our daily existence. Everything that each of us in the modern world consumes exists and is available to us only because of the cooperation of millions or hundreds of millions or billions of strangers around the globe. The market does work remarkably – astoundingly – well, even on its down days.
You have no idea how to make the computer or other device upon which you’re now reading my pedestrian prose. You have no idea how to make the food that you’ll eat tomorrow for breakfast. You have no idea how to make the clothes you’re wearing, the marvelous machines in your home that will be used to recycle those clothes for subsequent wearings, or the detergents that will assist in this recycling. You have no idea how to build the walls or floors or ceilings of your residence, or how to cut and surface the roads over which the materials in your residence travelled to be combined and situated as they now are.
Every moment of every day each of us in modernity taps into the talents, knowledge, creativity, risk-taking, and work effort of countless strangers who we do not and will never know personally. In return, we contribute to these strangers our own talents, knowledge, creativity, risk-taking, and work effort. It’s a helluva good deal. Every person in modern society daily consumes vastly more than what each person can produce on his or her own.
I would have more patience for people who complain about market processes and ‘outcomes’ if those who do this complaining gave some evidence that they appreciate the complex reality and the incredible achievements of free markets. But seldom, if ever, do market-skeptics and market-haters evince such an appreciation. These people take the market’s achievements for granted, focusing only on the downsides (as if, in this earthly vale, positive achievements can come without downsides) or on the fact that the market doesn’t achieve what these people can imagine the market achieving if the market were governed by god. (This latter attitude is commonplace; it’s also deeply arrogant: ‘Oh no! The world doesn’t conform to my precise desires! Something is wrong with the world! This error must be corrected with coercion!’)