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November 2011

Liberty and Community: Marx and Smith on Commercial Societies

According to Professor James Otteson, one of the greatest challenges often presented against individual liberty and free markets is that they are atomizing. Essentially, it is claimed that people within a commercial society begin to view one another as competitors. This critique goes as far back as at least Karl Marx.

Although there is some truth to this, what is often overlooked by these critics is the enormous amount of social cooperation that takes place within a commercial society. For instance, a raggedy old wool coat may seem simple enough, but bringing that coat to the market required countless individuals to cooperate with one another. It required people to raise and take care of sheep, harvest wool, transform wool into a usable material, dye material, cut material, sew material into a coat, and transport the coat to market. Each one of these steps required social cooperation and tools made by other people. This insight goes as far back as at least Adam Smith.

Bringing this insight into the 21st century, with all the goods and services that are available to us, you can begin to see the massive amount of social cooperation that takes place in a modern commercial society.

For more, visit LearnLiberty.org.