By Michael Phillips
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Nearly all of us live in the world of commerce. The surface wave of commerce began several thousand years ago. It grew rapidly a hundred years ago; now our lives are engulfed in the tsunami of commerce.
Today, the words commerce and modern world describe nearly the same thing. Neither can exist without the other. The tsunami of commerce created our modern world.
The term commerce, as used in this book, means more than the word business. Commerce is broader because it includes barter. Barter is commerce, but not business. Businesses can succeed or fail. Commerce and only be suppressed.
Over the past century, communist governments disbanded businesses and tried to eliminate commerce, but communism never succeeded in burying it. When I visited Moscow in 1981, commerce was alive and well in nearly every alley, offering souvenirs, currency and sex. Business can be destroyed but commerce can’t.
Commerce is a unique system that contrasts with: the military, the arts, government, the intellectual world and religion. Each of these provinces - government, intellect and religion have a different mind-set than the mind-set of commerce. Soldiers, participants in the military, have a different worldview than participants in commerce. Commercial people and the commercial mind are distinct.
Many people consider commerce a part of our current moral system. They believe that good people are rewarded with money and success. Such a moral view leads to confusion in understanding what commerce really is.
Commerce is indifferent to our current moral order. Commerce enthusiastically delivers immoral products: drugs, contraband, slaves and so on. Commerce readily provides illegal goods to any buyer and can reward immoral people with great wealth.
We need mental tools to understand and appreciate the moral indifference of commerce. In this chapter, we compare commerce to other morally indifferent systems such as technology and science.
Chapter 2 New commercial values
Commerce thrives when specific social values are present: diversity, openness, meritocracy, markets, technological affinity and decentralization. The presence of these values promotes commerce, and their absence retards it.
Chapter 3 Commercial Minds
Living in a commercial world promotes a commercial mind in each of us. Among the many attributes of the commercial mind are: the monetizing of nearly everything, the unlimited potential for avarice, cynicism, blasé attitudes, the rise of irony in our perception, the adoption of a managerial perspective, the elevation of whim and selfish absorption to major living values, and the emergence of global commercial behaviors.
Our commercial mind also values and expects a world of constant surprise and becomes inured to wonder.
The vigor of commerce, in any country, depends on the government. Commerce needs a government that is neither too weak to protect private contracts, including citizens’ property rights, nor so strong that it squashes those contracts whenever it wants to. The government we have in the United States does well with commerce; the government of Cuba does poorly.
It would be helpful to know how a government can promote commerce by fine-tuning laws, taxes and government agencies to create exactly the right mix of not too weak and not too strong.
Unfortunately, right now, in the beginning of the twenty first century, we aren’t close to knowing the right mix of government policy that will promote commerce.