Sunday, October 17, 2010

In Praise of .......................

capitalism and commerce.

"Perhaps Adam Smith was right, that in turning strangers
into honorary friends, exchange can transmute base self-
interest into general benevolence.  The rapid commercial-
isation of lives since 1800 has coincided with an extra-
ordinary improvement in human sensibility compared with
previous centuries, and the process began in the most
commercial nations, Holland and England.  Unimaginable
cruelty was commonplace in the pre-commercial world:
execution was a spectator sport, mutilation a routine
punishment, human sacrifice a futile tragedy and animal
torture a popular entertainment.  The 19th Century, when
industrial capitalism drew so many people into dependence
on the market, was a time when slavery, child labour and
pastimes like fox tossing and cock fighting became unaccept-
able.  The late 20th century, when life became still more com-
mercialised, was a time when racism, sexism, and child mo-
lesting became unacceptable.  In between, when capitalism
gave way to various forms of state-directed totalitarianism
and their pale imitators, such virtues were noticeable by their
retreat- while faith and courage revived.  The 21st Century,
when commercialisation has so far continued to spread, is
already a time when battery farming and unilaterally de-
claring war have just about become unacceptable.  Random
violence makes the news precisely because it is so rare;
routine kindness does not make the news precisely because
it is so commonplace.  Charitable giving has been growing
faster than the economy as a whole in recent decades.  The
internet reverberates with people sharing tips for free."

"There is a direct link between commerce and virtue. 
'Far from being a vice,' says Eamonn Butler, 'the market
system makes self interest into something thoroughly
virtuous.' "

-An excerpt from Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist

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