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07/03/2007

"Trade is nothing but the release of what one has in abundance to obtain some other thing one wants."

By Frank Chodorov (1887�1966)

[This article is excerpted from chapter 6 of The Rise and Fall of Society.]

Part I

Wherever two boys swap tops for marbles, that is the marketplace. The simple barter, in terms of human happiness, is no different from a trade transaction involving banking operations, insurance, ships, railroads, wholesale and retail establishments; for in any case the effect and purpose of trade is to make up a lack of satisfactions.

The boy with a pocketful of marbles is handicapped in the enjoyment of life by his lack of tops, while the other is similarly discomfited by his need for marbles; both have a better time of it after the swap.

In like manner, the Detroit worker who has helped to pile up a heap of automobiles in the warehouse is none the better off for his efforts until the product has been shipped to Brazil in exchange for his morning cup of coffee. Trade is nothing but the release of what one has in abundance to obtain some other thing one wants. It is as pertinent for the buyer to say �thank you� as for the seller.

The marketplace is not necessarily a specific site, although every trade must take place somewhere. It is more exactly a system of channeling goods or services from one worker to another, from fabricator to consumer, from where a superfluity exists to where there is a need. It is a method devised by man in his pursuit of happiness to diffuse satisfactions, and operating only by the human instinct of value.

Its function is not only to transfer ownership from one person to another, but also to direct the current of human exertion; for the price indicator on the chart of the marketplace registers the desires of people, and the intensity of these desires, so that other people (looking to their own profit) may know how best to employ themselves.

Living without trade may be possible, but it would hardly be living; at best it would be mere existence. Until the marketplace appears, men are reduced to getting by with what they can find in nature in the way of food and raiment; nothing more. But the will to live is not merely a craving for existence; it is rather an urge to reach out in all directions for a fuller enjoyment of life, and it is by trade that this inner drive achieves some measure of fulfillment.

The greater the volume and fluidity of marketplace transactions the higher the wage level of Society; and, insofar as things and services make for happiness, the higher the wage level the greater the fund of happiness.

The importance of the marketplace to the enjoyment of life is illustrated by a custom recorded by Franz Oppenheimer in The State. In ancient times, on days designated as holy, the marketplace and its approaches were held inviolable even by professional robbers; in fact, stepping out of character, these robbers acted as policemen for the trade routes, seeing to it that merchants and caravans were not molested.

Why? Because they had accumulated a superfluity of loot of one kind, more than they could consume, and the easiest way of transmuting it into other satisfactions was through trade. Too much of anything is too much.

The marketplace serves not only to diffuse the abundances that human specialization makes possible, but it is also a distributor of the munificences of nature. For, in her inscrutable way, nature has spread the raw materials by which humans live over the face of the globe; unless some way were devised for distributing these raw materials, they would serve no human purpose.

Thus, through the conduit of trade the fish of the sea reach the miner's table and fuel from the inland mine or well reaches the boiler of the fishing boat; tropical fruits are made available to northerners, whose iron mines, translated into tools, make production easier in the tropics. It is by trade that the far-flung warehouses of nature are made accessible to all the peoples of the world and life on this planet becomes that much more enjoyable.

We think of trade as the barter of tangible things simply because that is obvious. But a correlative of the exchange of things is the exchange of ideas, of the knowledge and cultural accumulations of the parties to the transaction. In fact, embodied in the goods is the intelligence of the producers; the excellent woolens imported from England carry evidence of thought that has been given to the art of weaving, and Japanese silks arouse curiosity as to the ideas that went into their fabrication.

We acquire knowledge of people through the goods we get from them. Aside from that correlative of trade, there is the fact that trading involves human contacts; and when humans meet, either physically or by means of communication, ideas are exchanged. �Visiting� is the oil that lubricates every marketplace operation.

"Trade is nothing but the release of what one has in abundance to obtain some other thing one wants."

It was only after Cuba and the Philippines were drawn into our trading orbit that interest in the Spanish language and customs was enlivened, and the interest increased in proportion to the volume of our trade with South America.

As a consequence, Americans of the present generation are as familiar with Spanish dancing and music as their forefathers, under the influence of commercial contacts with Europe, were at home with the French minuet and the Viennese waltz. When ships started coming from Japan, they brought with them stories of an interesting people, stories that enriched our literature, broadened our art concepts, and added to our operatic repertoire.

It is not only that trading in itself necessitates some understanding of the customs of the people one trades with, but that the cargoes have a way of arousing curiosity as to their source, and ships laden with goods are followed with others carrying explorers of ideas; the open port is a magnet for the curious.

So, the tendency of trade is to break down the narrowness of provincialism, to liquidate the mistrust of ignorance. Society, then, in its most comprehensive sense, includes all who for the improvement of their several circumstances engage in trade with one another; its ideational character tends toward a blend of the heterogeneous cultures of the traders. The marketplace unifies Society.

The concentration of population determines the character of Society only because contiguity facilitates exchange. But contiguity is a relative matter, depending on the means for making contacts; the neutralization of time and space by mechanical means makes the whole world contiguous. The isolationism that breeds an ingrown culture and a mistrust of outside cultures melts away as faster ships, faster trains, and faster planes bring goods and ideas from the great beyond.

The perimeter of Society is not fixed by political frontiers but by the radius of its commercial contacts. All people who trade with one another are by that very act brought into community.


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