Since altruism holds that sacrificing oneself for the sake of others is man’s highest moral duty and any concern whatsoever with one’s self is condemned as selfish therefore evil, I wondered what it would be like to live in a society where the concept trade and all related concepts were outlawed. It would mean I think that such concepts as buy and sell would also be taboo. It would be a society in which people could only present their needs to each other. How would that work?Well, let’s say you needed a shirt. You can’t want a shirt. That’s selfish=evil. You can only need one. So you go to a store? Nope. ‘Store’ is a concept that refers to a marketplace which everyone knows is a cauldron of self-interest=evil. You look for a sign saying something like ‘clothing sacrifices.’ You go in and present your need to the public sacrificer behind the counter. “I am in need of a shirt” you might say. “There are two racks of shirts over there” says the public sacrificer “See if one of them satisfies your need.” So you find one that does and say “Thank you for servicing my need.” He then replies “I have a need also.” “For what” you inquire. “For $19.95” he pleads. Because you truly believe that sacrifice is moral and you truly want to be moral, you pony up the funds.
But suppose you don’t have enough money or feel that he shouldn’t want a sacrifice in return and try to walk out with the shirt. “Wait” shouts the public sacrificer. “I sacrificed for you so you had better sacrifice for me.” “Not so” you retort. “St Ambrose said you don’t do the poor man a favor by giving him your property. You are giving him that which is rightfully his. I need this shirt so it is rightfully mine.” “Yes” the public sacrificer concedes. But I need your $19.95 so that makes it rightfully mine so fork it over or I’ll call the ethics police and have you arrested for selfishness and refusing to sacrifice to the needy.” Fearing jail, you hand over the funds.
I could go on with this imaginary reality but even this reality would be impossible since sacrificing means giving up values and receiving nothing in return for the sacrificer. It would mean that the clothing sacrificer would have to hope someone would come in and sacrifice money to service his need. Since few would, no more clothing would be produced. Everyone suffers.
Notice the nature of the transaction. You lose $19.95. He loses a shirt. A lose/lose event. The moral emphasis is on losing values i.e. suffering. Free trade however puts the moral emphasis on gaining values. You value the shirt more than the $19.95 and he values the $19.95 more than the shirt. Everyone wins because everyone gains a value for himself. It is the gaining of values that altruism, the morality of sacrifice, condemns and seeks to destroy.