From “Remarks on the Stoics” by Allen Thornton (link):
Suppose that you were the only person in the universe. You could exist in the most perfect paradise without reflecting on your good fortune. You could suffer hunger, thirst, and pain and not complain about the “unfairness” of existence. Notions of good and evil, just and unjust, cannot exist unless there are other people and other lives. When we judge these matters, we usually look no further than our neighbors. Americans call people poor whose standard of living would be considered quite high in China. They take for granted luxuries that were unimaginable 200 years ago. A time may come when our descendants will consider our lives horribly brutal and short, but we do not complain so long as we live about as well as those we see frequently or know about.
It would be simple to understand the Stoics’ view of reality if we didn’t have to deal with other people. But people can steal from us, make demands on us, depend on us, and interact with us in thousands of ways. The question of our relations with other people is the most complicated one in any religion or philosophy. Epictetus explains how a Stoic can maintain his serenity in the face of obviously predatory people. He cites the case of a thief who steals your clothes. “Do not admire your clothes and then you will not be angry with the thief. Do not admire the beauty of your wife, and you will not be angry with the adulterer.” He reasons that the thief “does not know wherein man’s good consists, but he thinks that it consists in having fine clothes, the very thing which you also think.” The Stoic knows that a man’s good is in his will and character and not in anything external to him.
His logic is an example of a greater truth: Inequality leads to harmony; equality leads to conflict. We are constantly told that the opposite is true, but we should consider the relations between people. Trade and commerce depend on the fact that individuals place a different value on money. If the grocer didn’t value the bag of flour less than the customer, he wouldn’t sell it. Suppose the bag were worth a dollar to the grocer and a dollar to the customer; then the grocer would have no incentive to sell it. But the grocer values the bag at less than a dollar and so both the grocer and the customer can increase their wealth by the trade of one dollar for one bag of flour. Or suppose a rich man wants to hire a person for a job and two qualified applicants apply. The applicants are not in conflict with the rich man but with each other. Or suppose a man is in love with a beautiful woman. He is in harmony with other women and with homosexuals because they do not value the woman the way he does. Their feelings toward her are completely different from his. He feels the most hatred and ill-will toward another man who also loves the woman. Conflict is in direct proportion to equality. Of course, politics turns everything on its head. Groups of similar people with similar values combine to exert pressure to achieve political ends. But even in this case, the group is simply trying to obtain something from the government at the expense of other groups who want the same thing.
Posted in Economics, Philosophy
Tagged commerce, equality, ethics, fairness, inequality, libertarian philosophy, outside observations, politics, stoicism, subjective value theory, voluntary exchange
Just two days ago in a conversation with friends I used Russell Brand as an example of what might be described in common parlance as a “disgusting, worthless human being.” Of course, I don’t abide by such attempts at objective value judgments these days but nonetheless I wanted it to be clear that I didn’t think Brand’s… brand… met my needs in any meaningful way, and I was additionally suspicious of his ability to meet the needs of many others.
It’s worth reconsidering that point now. I value the reservation of my right to reconsider and change my mind on something and here is a wide avenue with which my foot could journey into my mouth. In other words, he still isn’t perfect as far as meeting my needs go, but this little consideration shows me maybe he’s a bit more of a right old chap in my eyes than I could first see (The Gaurdian):
Noel once expressed his disgust at seeing a politician at Glastonbury. “What are you doing here? This ain’t for you,” he’d said. He explained to me: “You used to know where you were with politicians in the 70s and 80s cos they all looked like nutters: Thatcher, Heseltine, Cyril Smith. Now they look normal, they’re more dangerous.” Then, with dreadful foreboding: “They move among us.” I agree with Noel. What are politicians doing at Glastonbury and the GQ awards? I feel guilty going, and I’m a comedian. Why are public officials, paid by us, turning up at events for fashion magazines? Well, the reason I was there was because I have a tour on and I was advised it would be good publicity. What are the politicians selling? How are they managing our perception of them with their attendance of these sequin-encrusted corporate balls?
We witness that there is a relationship between government, media and industry that is evident even at this most spurious and superficial level. These three institutions support one another. We know that however cool a media outlet may purport to be, their primary loyalty is to their corporate backers. We know also that you cannot criticise the corporate backers openly without censorship and subsequent manipulation of this information.
The long lead up to this revelation I find to be hysterical. The best comedy, such as that of George Carlin, typically offers such a treatment to deathly serious subjects such as the inanity of fascism.
Marc Rich died today in Switzerland at age 78 (Bloomberg.com).
Marc Rich, even in death, is remembered for being a “fugitive.” While his exile to Switzerland may have been self-imposed and motivated by avoiding legal entrapment in the United States, he is better remembered for being an outstanding trader of commodities, with a creative knack for getting around arbitrary political boundaries and conflicts to connect buyers and sellers of desired goods.
This aspect of Marc Rich’s life, along with his legal prosecution and other items of interest, were discussed at length in my review of The King of Oil, the official biography of Marc Rich published in 2010, three years before his death.
Posted in Economics, Investing
Tagged business, death, entrepreneurialism, fugitive, libertarian philosophy, Marc Rich, politics, reviews, success, wealth