A Tribute to Trade

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

 

 
 

The
sight of New York City’s twin World Trade Center towers falling
to the ground, the result of an act of deliberate aggression, seems
to symbolize two points that seem entirely forgotten today: the
magnificent contribution that commerce makes to civilization and
just how vulnerable it is to its enemies. If the enemies of capitalist
commerce are hellbent on the destruction of the source of wealth,
there are few means available to prevent it.

The
two buildings were once glorious, and all the more so because they
were constructed not to display the glory of the State but to exhibit
the creative power of the capitalist economy. Soaring 1,300 feet
above the city, a person on the 110th floor enjoyed a
panoramic view stretching 55 miles: a broad vision of human civilization.
Much more important for the flowering of civilization is what went
on there: entrepreneurship, creativity, exchange, service, all of
it peaceful, all of it to the benefit of mankind.

What
kind of service? Here were the brokers who invest our savings, trying
their best to channel resources to their most profitable uses. Here
were insurance companies, who provide the valuable service of securing
our lives and property against accidents. Here were many retailers,
who risk their own livelihoods to provide us with goods and services
we as consumers desire. Here were lenders, lawyers, agents, and
architects whose contribution is so essential to our daily lives.

Some
of us knew men and women who are now dead. But most of them will
remain anonymous to us. Whether we knew them or not, they were our
benefactors nonetheless, because in the commercial society, the
actions of entrepreneurs benefit everyone, in mostly imperceptible
ways. They all contribute to the stock of capital on which prosperity
itself is based. They work daily to coordinate the use of resources
to eliminate waste and inefficiency, and make products and services
available that improve our everyday lives.

Think
especially of the remarkable people in that place who facilitated
international trade. They daily accomplished the seemingly impossible.
Faced with a world of more than two hundred countries, and hundreds
more languages and dialects, with as many currencies and legal regimes,
and thousands of local cultural differences, and billions of consumers,
they found ways to make peaceful exchange possible. They looked
for and seized on every opportunity that presented itself to enable
human cooperation.

No
government has been able to accomplish anything this remarkable.
It is a miracle made possible by commerce, and by those who undertake
the burden of making it happen.

We
often hear platitudes about the brotherhood of man. But you don’t
see it at the United Nations or at the summits of governments. There
you see conflicts, resolved usually by the use of other people’s
money taken by force. But at the World Trade Center, the brotherhood
of man was an every day affair.

It
didn’t matter if you were a small rug merchant in Nepal, a fisherman
off the Chinese coast, or a machine manufacturer in the American
Midwest, the people who worked here put you in contact with others
who valued what you did and what you could give to others. Consent
and choice, not conflict and coercion, was at the core of everything.
Their watchword was contract, not hegemony.

True,
the objective of all these merchants and traders may have been their
own personal betterment, but the effect of their work was to serve
not just themselves but everyone else as well. Because the beneficial
effects of trade are not just local but national, and not just national
but international, the inhabitants of these buildings were in many
ways the benefactors of all of us personally. The blessings we experienced
from their work came to us every time we used a credit card, withdrew
money from the bank, bought from a chain store, or ordered something
online.

In
short, these people were producers. Frederic Bastiat said of them:
they are the people who "create out of nothing the satisfactions
that sustain and beautify life, so that an individual or a people
is enabled to multiply these satisfactions indefinitely without
inflicting privation of any kind on other men or other peoples."

Yes,
they earned profits, but for the most part, their work went unrewarded.
It was certainly unappreciated in the culture at large. They are
not called public servants. They are not praised for their sacrifices
to the common good. Popular culture treated these "money centers"
as sources of greed and corruption. We are told that these people
are the cause of environmental destruction and labor exploitation,
that the "globalists" inside the World Trade Center were
conspiring not to create but to destroy. Even after all the destruction
wrought by socialism, capitalists must still bear the brunt of envy
and hatred.

The
impulse to hate the entrepreneurial class shows up in myriad ways.
We see it when franchise restaurants are bombed, as they frequently
are in France. In the United States, the government works to "protect"
land from being used by commerce, and increasingly numbers of our
laws are built on the presumption that the business class is out
to get us, not serve us. The business pages more often report on
the villainy, rather then the victories, of enterprise. Or take
a look at the typical college bookstore, where students are still
required to read Marx and the Marxians rather than Mises and the
Misesians.

All
the enemies of capitalism act as if its elimination would have no
ill consequences for our lives. In the classroom, on television,
at the movies, we are continually presented a picture of what a
perfect world of bliss we would enjoy if we could just get rid of
those who make a living through owning, speculating, and amassing
wealth.

For
hundreds of years, in fact, the intellectual classes have demanded
the expropriation and even the extermination of capitalistic expropriators.
Since ancient times, the merchant and his trade have been considered
ignoble. In fact, their absence would reduce us to barbarism and
utter poverty. Even now, the destruction of the property and people
at the once-mighty towers of the world have already impoverished
us in more ways than we will ever know.

Those
who understand economics and celebrate the creative power of commerce,
understand this higher truth, which is why we defend the market
economy at every opportunity. That is why we seek to eliminate the
barriers that governments and anticapitalists have erected against
the businessmen’s freedom. We see them as the defenders of civilization
and so we seek to guard their interests in every way we know how.

We
mourn the lost lives of those who worked in the World Trade Center
towers, which are no more. We mourn their lost vocations. We owe
it to them to appreciate anew their contribution to society. As
Mises wrote, "No one can find a safe way out for himself if
society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in
his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual
battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone
hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn
into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which
our epoch has plunged us."

September
12, 2001

Llewellyn
H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him
mail
], former editorial assistant to Ludwig von Mises and congressional
chief of staff to Ron Paul, is founder and chairman of the Mises
Institute
, executor for the estate of Murray N. Rothbard, and
editor of LewRockwell.com.
See his
books
.

The
Best of Lew Rockwell

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare