All need to be thanked for their services – 05/23/2023 – Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

“Thank you for your service.” Ultimately, this is what an American should say to the military in uniform. They board the planes before the others.

I hope this custom does not spread to Brazil. You guys have enough problems with your military already, useless for anything more than giving tough guys a good career and occasionally intervening in politics. But in your country, and mine, a large army and “thank you for your service” is a sign of a militarized society.

It is also a sign of a profound economic error.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in the sermon at the ceremony in which he crowned Charles III as King of the United Kingdom, called his flock to “service”. He listed services only as unpaid work, such as feeding poor people or serving in the church.

What he didn’t realize, unconsciously insulting most of the world’s workers in the huge television audience, is all the service we do each other too when we’re paid for it.

You serve when you sell your work or you sell a product or, of course, you sell a personal service. Yes, you make a profit. But so does your employer or your customer, in cash or in satisfaction, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken the business in the first place.

Economists call this the “surplus” of the producer or the consumer, which reverts to both the supplier and the demander. It is also called “gain from trade”. Argentine economist Martin Krause makes a mockery of self-sufficiency when he observes how much it would cost a person to manufacture his own car.

When students tell me what they want to do in life, they often say they want to work in the not-for-profit sector. Their idea is that true service to others is only without money. It is true that within a small group of family or friends no money changes hands. I noted in an earlier article that money is needed only in business between strangers, outside of love or loyalty.

Everyone is serving everyone in a commercial society. It is the most altruistic system conceivable.

Robinson Crusoe at first served only himself. But as soon as Friday arrived, Crusoe served him by imparting his knowledge of animal husbandry. Friday served Crusoe by gathering the scattered goats. In a large society they would do this for pay. The result is the same.

In other words, you should thank everyone for their service.

Translated by Luiz Roberto Gonçalves

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