Cardinal Obligation 6: Between Buyer and Seller
Finally, the Cardinal Relation between buyer and seller, a sixth Cardinal Relation invented by me - is it also a relationship of mutual help? With all the talk about the “hidden persuaders,” how “big corporations manipulate us to buy their products,” and how “big business” manipulate the market to make us overpay, sometimes it is hard to see how the relation between buyer and seller can be one of mutual help. Socialist ideology and much traditional ideology from around the world, especially the poorer countries, say that buying and selling are somehow inherently dirty as the profit motive (hence “greed”) is involved, and that sellers are morally suspect as they are always looking to “take advantage of the customer” and take the “poor sucker” for all he has. Such is the cynical worldview of the “dog-eat-dog world.”
Sadly, there is still much currency to this type of thinking, especially in the more socialist and poorer parts of the world. No, the honest, non-cheating profit motive is not the same as the dishonest, cheating “greed.” The honest, non-cheating profit motive means striving to help one’s customers better than everyone else, or more than everyone else, or striving to help more customers than everyone else. Those laudable and honorable strivings are the only real ways to make more profit honestly. Of course, collecting on payments due is part of the honest profit motive, and is absolutely necessary to ensure justice and to ensure that the provision of the valuable and useful product or service under consideration is sustainable. It is absolutely honorable, therefore, for a buyer to demand and collect on payments due him, otherwise he will not be able to continue producing his product or service, it will become unsustainable, and soon noone else will be able to enjoy his product or service. He is only being responsible to other consumers and would-be consumers of his product or service to strive to make it sustainable. As for taking advantage of one’s customers in price, quantity, or quality, that is the surest path to ruin for a seller, because there is only a one-time profit and there will be a real dearth of customers as his putrid reputation becomes known.
Buying and selling is truly mutual help on the grandest scale. As I have written back on March 4:
“An extraterrestrial visitor will find the massive and intricate amount of mutual help in human society simply amazing. Millions upon millions of people go to their jobs at set hours and perform their tasks more or less to order, day after day, providing goods and services to help other people. These producers then go regularly to yet other people, like the grocer, the hairdresser, the doctor, and so forth, and receive help in the form of needed goods and services, just so much and no more, with little or no fighting, scrambling, or whining. Everything is very orderly, yet there is no one controlling or directing all this traffic!”
Indeed, advance in the level of wealth and modernization of a society can be seen as nothing other than increase in the quantity and complexity of the mutual help in a society. Every new product or service is just another type of mutual help being brought into being: whereas before we have no life-saving treatment for say, appendicitis, and appendicitis is a sure death sentence, with modernization and medical advance in a society a new type of mutual help is born, the persons called surgeon, surgical nurse, anaesthesiologist, operating room architects, builders, maintainers, janitors, and so forth, who can come together to help people by providing them with the service called an appendenctomy, come into being.
Should it be any wonder that, where there is prevalent recognition of buying and selling as being honorable and respectable, where sellers and buyers are usually honest and usually don’t cheat, the society is relatively rich, and where the opposite is prevalent, the society is poor? It is not an accident; it is cause and effect.
In the old days, when China has been one of the richest, if not the richest, country in the world, the attitude prevalent in society has been that one must be honest, must not be greedy, and must not cheat. In the past, Chinese businessmen have had a sterling reputation for honesty, fairness, and being true to their word. In fact, an article in Readers’ Digest that I’ve read during the sixties talks about how the secret to success of the overseas Chinese businessmen in Southeast Asia, besides an amazing work ethic, is their legendary integrity. Alas, that kind of integrity is not much in evidence in the thinking prevalent among people in China these days, thanks to the half century of socialist ideology there.
For the sad situation in the prevalent attitude and thinking among Chinese people nowadays, special responsibility must also be laid on the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” of 1966 to 1971, and the “Campaign to Critize Lin Biao and Confucius” immediately after, from 1971 to 1976. Those ten years of ideological “ethnic cleansing” have thoroughly rid China of its traditional culture, traditional morality, traditional integrity, and traditional courtesy, in a word, rid China of its moorings.