Merchant offers a collectivistic approach to economics in his debut treatise.
It’s long been held that self-interest is the elemental mechanism of the economy, but Merchant respectfully disagrees. He says that the capitalistic claim that humans are motivated by selfishness is just as false as the Marxist assumption that they’re motivated by utilitarianism. Instead, he argues for a third way of thinking that considers human communal tendencies that he terms “collectivistic.” He walks readers through various economic areas, demonstrating how behaviors that one might blithely describe as individualistic, such as dining out, actually have complex, communal dimensions that many economic models don’t consider. The implications of this view help explain why many representations of the economy appear insufficient, he says; it’s not simply the sum of its individuals, but something far greater. The true wealth of a nation, he says, lies not in its land or resources but in its collectivistic potential; he also identifies anti-collectivistic “weapons” that exist in our society that keep us from realizing it. He expresses his hopes that society will eventually move forward into an increasingly globalized, post–nation-state economy. At a little over 100 pages, readers can breeze through this book in one or two sittings. Merchant takes a topical approach to his argument, dividing the essay into easily digestible chapters with titles such as “Consumption: The Concept of Commodity,” “Work: The Concept of Role,” and “Trade: Buying and Selling.” Although many readers may seek out economics books that reinforce their own personal beliefs, Merchant’s vision isn’t traditionally conservative or liberal. Instead, he advocates a holistic approach that’s rarely encountered in mainstream debate. He writes in crisp, accessible prose and offers examples to illustrate the principles he discusses, placing them into the relatable, physical world of the everyday. The brevity and clarity of the work will make it attractive to readers who aren’t engaged by opaque economics tomes and pundit-penned rehashings of established ideas. If it’s true that the most plainly stated arguments win the most supporters, this one should have no trouble entering the larger dialogue.
A concise, persuasive argument for the importance of the collective in economics.