It Goes Both Ways

People have a tendency to put themselves into one role in the market, and vilify the other.  They think of themselves as consumers, and producers are nasty.  They think of themselves as employees, and employers are greedy.  They think of themselves as sellers, and buyers are stingy.  They think of themselves as borrowers, and lenders are predatory.  To condemn any of these roles in the market is to condemn oneself.  We all play every role at one time or another.

Why is it wrong for the price of gas or groceries to go up, but right for the price of your home or the value of your 401(k) to go up?  You’re the “greedy” seller when you post on Craigslist.  You’re the “stingy” capitalist when you shop for the bank with the highest interest rate.  You’re the one “taking advantage of others” when you take a few extra minutes on lunch break or treat customers rudely.

There needn’t be any bad guy.  The point is, in a market we’re all at once buyers and sellers, producers and consumers, borrowers and lenders.  These are functions, not people, and all market participants play these roles at various times.  None of these roles are more or less noble than the other.  They’re all wonderful, so long as they’re all voluntary.  If they’re voluntary, they only come into being when another person, playing the counterpart, agrees to the exchange.  There are no sellers without buyers, there are just people with stuff they can’t get rid of.

Go easy on the one-sided category judgments.  Next time you’re tempted to condemn a company for taking advantage of employees, for example, consider all the employees that take advantage of the company as well.  Consider that both parties have to agree to work together, and both are aware of the ways in which the  other will try to get the most for the least in the deal.

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