To the trader mindset, sacred values are nothing but a confusion; if you don’t like the deal, you just haven’t been offered a high enough price.
There’s something important the trader mindset can’t see. Its modus operandi is to take two different representations of value and profits from resolving discrepancies. It is agnostic as to the validity of those representations. Thus, the trade orientation tends to collapse the map-territory distinction, and in particular confuse exchange rates (i.e. prices) and stores of value.
Consider this music video:
The protagonist is fixated on an image that's been marketed to her by someone wealthy enough to control a planet. The image isn't very detailed, and she's willing to undertake a dangerous and arduous journey, which implies that things aren't very good back home.
She's in a world where travel is expensive. Somehow, improbably, in outer space, she has to pay a toll. This should clue us in that something sketchy is going on.
Tolls are one of the classic modes of rent extraction, second only to land rents in their centrality as an image. There's a plausible excuse for tolls on improvements like bridges, but you don't need bridges in space - you can only collect the toll by preventing people from going around you. This should inform how we interpret the subsequent interactions where she pays for fuel, repair to her spaceship, and repair to her body; it's not obvious how much of the price is needed to pay for the cost of the service, and how much is a rent extracted by a predatory monopolist.
At each stage, the protagonist sacrifices capacity (in the form of mobility affordances, maybe the most concrete and central instance of capacity, from the Latin capere, meaning to take hold of something - she trades away her hand, then her leg, then her remaining limbs, then her spaceship (albeit getting a fully functioning body back as far as we know)) for some progress towards her destination. Then, once she gets there, she finds that she's traded away her ability to move, for relocation to a place that's no longer providing the service it advertised. It's true at each point that you wouldn't be helping her by preventing her from making the trade, but focusing on that aspect of the situation makes one a price-taker1 in a case where that attitude doesn't actually unlock any value.
Each trade had to leave her with hope, but it didn't have to be an accurate hope.
The resort planet owner likely never colluded with the toll collector, the fueling station, the repair station, or the rescue team. They just did their thing, and the harmful side effects were complementary. The resort planet owner doesn't pay the price of disappointed customers who arrive after the resort shuts down, so they simply don't bother pulling their ads. The other actors don't need to know why people want to go from point A to point B, they just know that they can interpose themselves in the middle and take resources they want.
It's important to bear in mind that no one overtly cheats anyone else in this scenario - all the parties are operating as honest traders, at least when considered within the bounds of the specific transaction they're executing. And yet, the whole situation is horrible in a way that the trades don't actually alleviate.
From the perspective of trade, sacredness intuitions are always a mistake. If I desperately need a new kidney, and you're desperately poor, why shouldn't I be allowed to solve your problem in exchange for you solving mine?
Sacredness intuitions say that this is morally abhorrent. The trader says that this is simply refusing to acknowledge tradeoffs. That whenever the sacredness intuition is correct, a proper weighing of tradeoffs would get the right answer.
The trader is missing something important.
There's offering a trade, and there's extortion. Sometimes people are honestly uncertain or mistaken about which one is happening, or correctly believe that something described as the former is in fact the latter.
When you're proposing a trade that gives the poor a fungible resource, you should wonder whether rent extraction will, in the long run, keep pace with their ability to pay. Except now they've all been through an elective surgery and have less kidney. Trading a kidney for a kidney does not suffer from this problem, so people are less worried about it. This is the sort of thing it's hard to see inside the trade intuition, but easier to see if you think about the systems involved.
There is also an attention economy consideration. If you foreground the details of a particular transaction, taking prices as a given, you're relegating the context to the background. But that context is where the prices come from - it's necessary if you want to understand why people are willing to pay. It's necessary if you care about anything that's not already priced.
Sometimes the most important thing is that background.
(This post is based on my comments here.)
Related: Categories of Sacredness, Sacred Cash, Eternal, and Hearthstone Economy versus Magic Economy, Cash transfers are not necessarily wealth transfers, Eliezer Yudkowsky's Facebook post about Basic Income
|↑1||Some economic models assume you’re negligible in size compared to the market, and can basically only buy and sell things, so you can treat prices as constants. This is being a price-taker, you take prices as you find them. (By contrast, in monopoly situations, your decisions are one whole side of the supply-demand balance.)
In a price-taker situation, the goods offered for sale and the prices they're offered at are taken as givens, even if there's imperfect information. Things that aren't considered include negotiation with counterparties, interfacing directly with physical (or social) reality to configure it into states you like that aren't well-approximated by anything currently for sale, or coordinating with other agents in your position to change the overall dynamic.