Do you feel unloved today? Maybe my new book can help: The Market Loves You; Why You Should Love It Back. I’m only slightly teasing. The market provides unlimited opportunities to lift your spirits and feel affection for the institution that is so thoroughly devoted to serving you.
And it is not just about buying and selling. In most places I shop today, I’m asked if I want to round up to the next dollar to support a charity. Sometimes I say yes and other times no. You do the same. What’s interesting is how the choice is offered to us. It’s made possible by financial technology that allows instant processing of payments and careful allocation of funds through mathematical algorithms. The technology ends in directing resources to good causes that might otherwise not be funded.
The transaction ends with both me and the cashier saying those magic words, thank you. Each of us offers thanks to the other because we’ve both benefitted, slightly better off than we were before. We express our gratitude for each other’s presence in our lives. Where is the benevolence in this event? Some would say it takes place only when I round up to give to charity.
I would go further. Benevolence characterizes every aspect of this sale, and not just this sale but also the millions upon millions of other transactions that enable the store to exist at all, and not just the store but the existence of all the products on the shelves, each of which embeds complex human relationships that extend all over the world, involving potentially billions of people.
Every unforced decision to trade represents a spark of insight, a hope for a better future, and the instantiation of a human relationship that affirms the dignity of everyone involved. Sometimes that relationship is personal; it is even more awesome to consider the enormously complex impersonal relationships that make up the vast global networks of exchange that make our lives wonderful.
We take the results for granted because they are so much part of our daily experience. If they suddenly went missing, any aspect of what we depend on to live a better life, we would experience demoralization and even devastation. The lights go out. The gas stations close. The shelves are empty. The doctors run out of medicine. There is no one to fix the plumbing, no one to repair the heater, no one to do the surgery on my heart. This is a world that is less lovely than the world of plenty we’ve come to expect.
Or imagine finding yourself in a position in which you can no longer find a market for your personal talents. No one is willing to pay you to be you. Permanent unemployment. Your personal connection to the matrix of exchange has been severed. This is a dehumanizing condition. You feel unloved. Few would disagree. I want to take this one step further to say that the presence of a vibrant commercial society in which we are personally involved is a major reason we feel the presence of love in our lives. And it’s not just about a feeling; it is about the practical realization of love.
I was two semesters deep in an economics major in college, steeped in curves and mechanisms of large-scale statistical aggregates, before the reality dawned on me. Economics is about human life. Exchange is about forming human relationships and connections, so that everyone benefits. Social order is an extension of these relationships.
The more complex these connections are, the greater the chance for wealth creation, reparation of social and personal problems, and the realization of the good life. To love and feel loved – there are so many layers to what that means, so much more than the common use of the term denotes – is at the foundation of what we call the good life.
The institutional setting in which human relationships become real in our lives is the market. This does not entail reducing human life to dollars and cents. It is about the recognition that our value as human beings is bound up with our associations with others, our trading relationships, and the opportunities we have to value and be valued by others.
Looked at this way, the moral aesthetic of the market is lovely. It fosters love. It needs love.
This is the theme of my book. It nowhere makes a comprehensive much less irrefutable argument for what appears to be an implausible claim. I’ve learned to leave that way of writing and thinking to others. I can only ask the reader sincerely to consider my impressionistic account of the immense contribution that commercial society makes to our hearts, souls, and lives.
The market desperately needs defense against those who would undermine it. Property must be secure. The right to accumulate wealth must be intact. The freedom to innovate and associate at will cannot be put at risk.