Markets Aren’t about “Using” People. Markets Help People Attain Their Goals.
A very common rip on market arrangements is that they use people. For instance, I have come across many versions of “love people and use things rather than loving things and using people.” As Paul Heyne expressed the sense of it, “such a system seems somehow to violate our profound moral conviction that nothing is more valuable than individual persons, and that each person ought to be treated as a unique end, never as a means to some further end.”
The irony is that those who love liberty derive their endorsement of market arrangements from the primacy of individuals. As Leonard Read wrote, “An individualist…looks upon society as the upshot, outcome, effect, recapitulation incidental to what is valued above all else, namely, each distinctive individual human being.”
What Do We Mean by “Use”?
So why have “market arrangements use people” criticisms persisted, even though the central defense of such arrangements is that it benefits the individuals involved? In large part, it comes from sloppy misuse of the word “use.”
While there is widespread moral condemnation of “using” people, use has different meanings. Use can mean “utilize or employ,” with no implication of harm to others. That is what we mean when we say someone uses a hammer. It is also what happens when people voluntarily provide their services to advance others’ purposes in markets. In contrast, use can also mean “abuse or harm,” particularly as a result of force or fraud. That is what we mean when we say, “you pretended to care about me, but you were just using me.”
The first meaning is consistent with either imposing no harm on others or benefitting them (as in mutually acceptable market arrangements, which individuals would not otherwise enter into); the second meaning requires that others are harmed. And not clearly distinguishing the different meanings introduces serious confusion.
Some people may be fooled by hearing that, “You use others in markets; using people harms them.” But that is far less likely if you clarify which meaning of “use” you have in mind. “You utilized
Article from Mises Wire