In my last post on this subject, I argued that one of things that markets do well is coordinate dispersed information. Another thing that markets do fairly well is facilitate cooperation among strangers. This is worth thinking about.
One of the wonderful things about a market is that it provides a way for me to peacefully make a deal with someone that I do not know and with whom I may have very fundamental disagreements. Markets do not require that contracting parties be friends or share the same world view. As one legal philosopher put it:
Markets are most attractive where individuals have broadly divergent conceptions of the good, where the relationships among individuals tend to be one-dimensional, discrete, nonrepeating, and where the benefits and burdens of cooperation are spread over persons, time, and geography. They are least necessary where interaction is repeated, were relationships are multidimensional and direct, and where there are shared conceptions of the good. (Jules Coleman, Risks and Wrongs, Oxford, UP 1992, pg 5)
This suggests that markets are more than merely economic institutions. They are not simply about the allocation of resources. Rather, they are also political institutions that manage pluralism and alienation. (The ability to interact with strangers also, of course, has purely economic benefits. One of the problems that faces the desperately poor in the developing world is that they do not have access to markets that allow them to deal with strangers. The resulting constriction of their economic world to their friends and families is one of the causes of their poverty.)
Consider my law firm. By and large, I like the people I work with. They are intelligent, friendly, and generally pleasant. On the other hand, I have very fundamental disagreements with many of them. On a host of social, political, religious, aesthetic, and sexual issues, I am sure that we have very different beliefs, some of which are passionately held. Yet we are not at one another’s throats, and indeed we cooperate together quite well. To put the point in geographic terms, the true site of bi-partisan cooperation in the nation’s capital is not the office of this or that moderate senator, but K Street. My firm comfortably houses refugees from Democratic and GOP administrations, people who are ideologically motivated and very aggressive. Yet they peacefully co-exist and co-operate within the marketplace of the firm.
This political dimension of markets should simultaneously attract and repel Mormons. It should attract us because we are a minority and are unlikely to be anything but a minority for the foreseeable future. Hence, we will always find ourselves in societies in which we will have deep disagreements with our fellows. Hence, we are likely to benefit from a social context that manages disagreement without violence or coercion, and which facilitates cooperation among the unlike minded. At the same time, however, Christ teaches us that we should love our neighbors and Joseph Smith proclaimed that friendship is the fundamental principle of Mormonism. In short our aim is a society without strangers but where we are “fellow citizens with the Saints.” In contrast, the market is a system that encourages us to treat others as strangers. Furthermore, by giving us tools with which to manage our relationships with strangers better, it no doubt reduces our immediate need to act as a neighbor to all, for the simple reason that one can function fairly well in a market without neighbors. Hence, the market is, in a sense, an institution that both allows Zion to develop in a sea of scoffers and skeptics, and at the same time presupposes the failure to achieve precisely what Zion seeks.