Priceless

hard-timesMrs Pegler says to Gradgrind, “I can love for love’s own sake!” Selfless love. Compassion. Empathy.

Bitzer says to Gradgrind, “The whole social system is a question of self-interest. What you must always appeal to, is a person’s self-interest. It’s your only hold. We are so constituted.”

Selfless love. Self-interest. Which is the basis for a society? Or is it both, like a teeter-totter? One end of the teeter-totter might look like this: ‘It was a fundamental principle of the Gradgrind philosophy that everything was to be paid for.  Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase. Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were not to be.  Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter.  And if we didn’t get to Heaven that way, it was not a politico-economical place, and we had no business there.’

But is compassion the other end of the teeter-totter? Can compassion be wholesome by itself, or does it need self-interest to balance it? Yet, if everything has a price, how do we view personal relations or international relations, like parenthood or relief or trade?

Take trade, for example. There’s a world of difference between the WTO (the World Trade Organization) and the WFTO (the World Fair Trade Organization). The ‘T’ in WTO means free trade, whereas the ‘T’ in WFTO means fair trade. Proponents of free trade see trade and commerce and the market as guided by self-interest; the market determines the price of things; the market is a positive, self-regulating, moral force (Adam Smith‘s ‘the invisible hand‘), and it should be unencumbered by human laws and policies. Fair trade folks see the opposite, that trade and the market are very human activities and have no inherent moral force, and as such need compassionate laws and policies to set a fair price, fair to all. Free traders tend to be right-wing, fair traders left-wing.

I would guess that some right-wingers think everything has a price. Does that mean there are left-wingers who think that nothing should have a price? Everything is priceless? Do we need a bit of both? Are some things pricey and others priceless?

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