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Ancient Chinese historian recognized the market as a beneficial spontaneous order

Tags Production Theory

Reading Don Lavoie and Emily Chamlee-Wright's Culture and Enterprise, I was struck by the following percipient and eloquent observation by Chinese historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien (c.145-86 BC), over two thousand years ago, regarding the coordinating capacity of the market process:

There must be farmers to produce food, men to extract the wealth of mountains and marshes, artisans to process these things and merchants to circulate them. There is no need to wait for government orders: each man will play his part, doing his best to get what he desires. So cheap goods will go where they fetch more, while expensive goods will make men search for cheap ones. When all work willingly at their trades, just as water flows ceaselessly downhill day and night, things will appear unsought and people will produce them without being asked. For clearly this accords with the Way and is in keeping with nature.

The passage can be found on page 48 in:

Lavoie, Don and Emily Chamlee-Wright. 2000. Culture and Enterprise: The Development, Representation, and Morality of Business. New York: Routledge, A Cato Institute Book.

And page 477 in:

Ssu-ma, Chi'en. 1961. Records of the Grand Historian of China. Translated from the Sih Chi of Ssu-ma Ch'ien. New York: Columbia University Press.

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