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Thoughts from the Frontline

A Nation of Shopkeepers

August 25, 2014

“To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.”
– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

One of the great pleasures of writing this letter is the fascinating correspondence and the relationships that develop along the way. The internet has allowed me to meet a wide range of people all over the world – something that never happened to me pre-1999. Not only do I get to meet a wide variety of people, I also come into contact with an even wider range of knowledge and ideas, much of which…

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rhb01@comcast.net

Aug. 25, 3:12 p.m.

Mr. Mauldin,

  I rarely have time to read all of your letters but being a fan of Adam Smith, Supply Side Economics and Science Fiction I could not resist.
  I note that my taste in SF tends to run to the older writers and that I am unfamiliar with Brin’s work - perhaps this weeks commentary will prompt me to correct that failing. 
  While I have no doubt that you are at least as busy reading as I am, and my excuse for adding to your reading list is not simply tit for tat for all the excellent and welcome information and commentary you fill up my inbox with but specifically in response to your comments at the end of ‘A Nation of Shopkeepers’ above.
  I strongly recommend to you and your readers a brilliant sociology meta study published in 1964 before Sociology was politicized the way it is now.  ‘Envy : A Theory of Social Behavior’ by Helmut Schoeck makes the case that envy (the so-called ‘evil eye’)is endemic in human beings and perhaps genetically coded for survival in primitive subsistence cultures but pernicious in modern man and indeed prevented any economic and social progress. 
  The Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment before it only became possible when the ingrained impulse to envy those better off than ourselves was eschewed by the system of judeo-christian ethics.  Prior to that innovation, indeed any form of ostentatious success was avoided for fear of attracting the unwanted attention of those less able in the tribe.
  Not being an envious person myself the work’s explanation of why people do what they do, and most especially their attraction to socialism and group action was an epiphany for me at the age of 50+.  ‘Envy’ is a little dry but I doubt you will regret the time you spend with this work once you get past the first 50 pages.

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