I think there’s a continuum of economic commerce that ranges from offering neighbors a needed cup of sugar to unflinchingly demanding a pound of flesh before even a grain of the sweet stuff is released. Maybe the spectrum is even broader. Maybe it begins at one end with freely sharing any and all of one’s possessions. At the other end, perhaps, is absolute control by one individual or group over other human beings; economic slavery or actual bondage.
If I am right that there is a continuum of commerce, then I may be right as well that commerce operates along two tracks: social and pecuniary. Neighbors sharing sugar clearly would fall on the social track. A refinery’s demand for payment before releasing a truckload of packaged products to a retailer is a pecuniary transaction. But even the social track involves payment; the exchange is emotional as opposed to monetary. The two tracks increasingly, it seem to me, are blending with one another. I suppose they have been merging for a very long time, but I sense a more rapid combination in recent years.
The social track of commerce slides toward the pecuniary track when barter is involved. (But maybe the definitions are at odds with my thoughts; pecuniary involves money, while barter involves trade. Trade and money are not synonymous; but for the purposes of this morning’s musing, I’ll consider them blood relatives.) I wonder whether there exists a precise point at which the social, human element of commerce becomes secondary to the pecuniary or monetary element? There must also be a point at which the social track goes off the rails (pun intended), replaced entirely by an expectation of precise financial payment. Farmers’ markets at which payment in cash is expected, but where some bartering may occur with respect to reducing unit costs based on volume, retain some of the social elements. A grocery store with fixed, inflexible unit pricing on vegetables, regardless of volume, is clearly driven by financial expectations.
Progressives tend to favor the social track, I think. Conservatives tend to favor the pecuniary track. In my ideal world, sugar-sharing would be common in every component of human interaction. Money would be merely a convenience to enable more comfortable and efficient sharing. For my conservative doppelgänger, the ideal world would remove the unpredictable emotional aspects from commerce, ensuring absolute consistency in all transactions, devoid of emotional messiness.
My ideal form of commerce would necessarily intertwine with the political environment within which it would function. I suppose I would call that political structure Humanitarian Socialism. But maybe I shouldn’t call it that. I just learned, thanks to an online article published by the Jamestown Foundation, that Chinese political analysts judged the collapse of the Soviet Union to have been caused by Gorbachev, who “was beguiled by the siren song of ‘humanitarian socialism,'”
Enough of this. Contemplating commerce will not achieve my goals for the day.
I appreciate your comments, Pat. Thanks for reading the post and for sharing your reaction to it.
Actually, I very much like the elegant simplicity in your metaphor of sharing sugar. AND I share your view that these differences among us can best be seen along a continuum – with very clear trade-offs made easier fo identify and name. Thanks, John.