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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/10030/lets-stay-together-on-direct-exchange-and-the-social-order/

Let’s Stay Together: On Direct Exchange and the Social Order

May 27, 2009 by

The discovery of the law of association was a great achievement of the classical economists. It points the way toward social harmony, showing that the powerful and the weak have a better way to relate to each other than through exploitation. The nature of the market as a network of voluntary exchanges means that each participant must feel he is benefiting from a trade, or he would not enter into it. FULL ARTICLE


Barry Loberfeld May 27, 2009 at 9:00 am

From “Anti-Trade — A Vortex of Absurdity”:

But isn’t there a conflict between “community and self-reliance” — i.e., between the interdependence of a community and the independence of oneself?

I’ve also recently discovered the answer to that question. As part of a feature on “anarchism,” the May-June Utne Reader presented an interview with “[s]elf-described neo-Luddite John Zerzan[, an] anarchist writer and researcher.” Contrary to any Rothbardian connotations, Mr. Zerzan defines anarchism as opposition to “all forms of domination[, which] includes not only such obvious forms as the nation-state… [but] the whole van of civilization — armies, religion, law, the state… [and even the dawn of] art, and on the heels of that, agriculture.” Mr. Zerzan informs us that “life before agriculture and domestication — in which by domesticating others [i.e., animals] we domesticated ourselves — was in fact largely one of leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality, and health.” Our fall from grace occurred “because for many millennia there was a kind of slow slippage into division of labor.” The interviewer asks the logical question: What’s wrong with division of labor? And he responds:

If your primary goal is mass production, nothing at all. It’s central to our way of life. Each person performs as a tiny cog in this machine [i.e., civilization]. If, on the other hand, your goal is relative wholeness, egalitarianism, autonomy, or an intact world, there’s quite a lot wrong with it.
I think that at base a person is not complete or free insofar as that person’s life and the whole surrounding setup depend on his or her being just some aspect of a process, some fraction of it. A divided life mirrors the basic divisions in society and it all starts there.

Recognizing the implications of this rhetoric, the interviewer asks another logical question: But humans are social animals. Isn’t it necessary for us to rely on each other? Division of labor, it seems, creates only “a form of dependence that comes from relying on others who have specialized skills you don’t have. They now have power over you. Whether they are ‘benevolent’ in using it is really beside the point.” 7 Mr. Zerzan then translates theory into practice with a statement I really must quote in full:

In addition to direct control by those who have specialized skills, there is a lot of mystification of those skills. Part of the ideology of modern society is that without it, you’d be completely lost, you wouldn’t know how to do the simplest thing. Well, humans have been feeding themselves for the past couple of million years, and doing it a lot more successfully and efficiently than we do now. The global food system is insane. It’s amazingly inhumane and inefficient. We waste the world with pesticides, herbicides, the effects of fossil fuels to transport and store foods, and so on, and literally millions of people go their entire lives without ever having enough to eat. But few things are simpler than growing or gathering your own food.

What began with tariffs on imports, ends with each man picking his own berries for food. We have pursued this premise around and down to its nadir. Now, division of labor is not a global, national or even local evil, but an intrinsic one. The inequity of the “power” that the capitalist has over the workers by owning the means of production is eclipsed by the inequity of the “power” that Peter has over Paul simply by being able to do something he can’t.

Theory and history demonstrate that at one pole of the opposition to free enterprise looms the total domination of society by the State; at the other, the total obliteration of society as such. Applied consistently, the policy of anti-trade would transform the entire world into a deserted island on which we are each of us stranded all alone. State despotism or social disintegration, 1984 or Robinson Crusoe — this is the choice that the critics of capitalism offer as a more just alternative to the freedom and cooperation of the market.

The only way to avoid being drawn into this madness is to not go anywhere near it to begin with. That means responding to the first rumblings of protectionism with a resolute affirmation of the right of all parties to engage in the peaceful exchange of goods and ideas — be it across the street, the border or the ocean.


Sean W. Malone May 27, 2009 at 3:43 pm

I like that this whole article is a rehashed version of Erwin Schiff’s “How an Economy Grows”.

Three cheers for division of labor!

Bruce Koerber May 27, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Beautifully written!

Joe Stoutenburg May 28, 2009 at 1:47 pm


Even though I recognize the drawbacks that would exist for a world of isolated Robinson Crusoes, I have to admit to feeling some affinity for what Zerzan says. Of course, a philosophy of liberty is not inconsistent with the lifestyle for which Zerzan seems to long. In a free society, a person would only need to have the courage to withdraw himself and exist according independently.

Plugging into the article at hand, a person desiring to live independently would offer no market exchanges. This is a valid set of valuations and is not at odds with the economic analysis herein.

gene berman May 28, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Specialization of function underlies not merely trade and mass production but is, in essence, the very foundation of civilization and harmonious relationships between people.

The more alike people (or any other living things) may be, the more alike are both their capabilities and the requirements of their flourishing; he more similar, the greater is the likelihood of competition for such requirements–kept in check by some limitation of their numerical proliferation, whether by disease, the action of predators, or by starvation consequent on numerical increase beyond that consistent with the
adequacy of the required resources. Mises remarked somewhere that the deadliest enemy (and the most constant) of the animal in a herd is not the predator but his own herd-mate, with whom he must compete constantly for the rarely-abundant stuff on which his life depends.

For the observant, this recognition also underscores the paramount importance of an understanding (as widely as is possible) of Economics. Only when the benefits of specialization and of unrestricted trade in the outputs of some for those of others are widely recognized can there be any hope of lasting peace, harmonious relations, and constant progress in what are called “standards of living.”

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