Art Carden has written a wonderful post about Christmas. These days, we were told as kids, we should learn to be thankful for all the good in our life: love and friendship that we honor by giving big and little presents to those that embody them, for us. However, as Art recommended, precisely these days that so much of our attention (as opposed to most of our time) is devoted to shopping, we should realize that our presents are in themselves a magnificent testimony to the power of human cooperation.

Alas, most people won’t see that, these days. Paul H. Rubin has a marvelous paper on “Emporiophobia“, that is: the fear of the market. He makes some very interesting points. Among other things, he writes:

By continually referring to competition and ignoring cooperation, economists have committed a fundamental semantic error. This error has important implications for the way the economy is viewed by non-economists. For most economically naïve people, which means most people, economic competition has basically negative connotations. (In other contexts, such as sports, competition is valued.) Competition is a win-lose event. Cooperation is a win-win situation.

Words matter, and the adoption of the metaphor of competition out of sports (in sport competition somebody wins, somebody loses) overshadowed the much more important point that the division of labour is a cooperative effort. We may point out that competition comes from “petere cum”, that is: to seek together, and thus stress its relevance as a discovery process. But I am afraid the sport metaphor, that emphasizes rivalry, resonates far more easily, with far more people.
This helps to explain why so many of us do not feel grateful for all the ingenuity, creativity and work that are embedded in our Christmas presents. Stressing “market cooperation” rather than “market competition” may have another positive effect. Am I the only one that finds shopping actually a great pleasure in life? I suppose there is “Emporiophobia”, at the level of the ideologies people adopt, but there is also “Emporiophilia”, mostly at the level of people’s actual conduct. There is often a bit of schizophrenia between what we do (most people are pretty good, conscious, intelligent, happy consumers) and what we believe (the very same people may believe in all kinds of interventions to curtail and limit the scope of markets). A bad use of metaphors may explain that gap, at least in part.