"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.]
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
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
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
"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
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
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.