I now continue my reflection on extra-economic aspects of life that powerfully affect the economy without being part of the calculations of the classical economists, and I offer here a reflection on the theme of "commercialism", understood as that which occurs when a exaltation of interest in purchasing or selling products or services begins to contaminate aspects of life that we feel could occur regardless of commercial considerations. If this explanation proves too abstract, it serves to illustrate the case of art, which at best constitutes the fruit of a vocation and even in the case of so many artists that have depended on their art to earn a living, we can understand how something has feeling and real value that is independent from marketing. So much so that we feel that it is a hallmark of great art to not prostitute itself to the market and that when we hear, for example, certain types of jazz, and its attempt to shine through a seduction of the audience, we say contemptuously that it is only "commercial jazz".

And what about the seeds? For millennia, Westerners have fed us bread, made with a wheat flour that our remote ancestors were able to produce over the centuries by hybridization of naturally occurring grains, with little nutritional value. But the wheat that has come from Iraq and the vicinity (the legendary Eden from the biblical myth) and that has fueled much of the world through its history is being replaced lately by genetically modified wheat upon which a company has a private patent, and it not only displaces the traditional wheat in order to be planted but also requires the purchase of new seeds by farmers after each harvest.

But the problem is not just that certain people make money with the new wheat, but that our economic order has allowed the injustice that compels the peasants of Iraq to leave their traditional wheat to buy the patented wheat that they are now offering. Also in India for the same reason thousands of peasants have killed themselves, which makes it clear that the "commercialization of life" is not just a matter of putting a price on something and selling it, but altering it to such the extent that the natural priorities of life itself are replaced with business priorities. And is not this subordination of all values and aspects of life by business one of the most tragic things in the contemporary world?

But doesn't this deception imply that the persecution of good chimerics results in an oblivion of good, if it were not for a shift of the value of things and people and money itself?

Naturally, everything that has authentic value acquires a price in our intensely commercial society, and it is also true that the price of works of art relies more on propaganda, the artistic merit as such, from the conformity of experts and from the corruption of those in the business of art; but as Antonio Machado wrote, a phrase often quoted: "Only fools confuse value and price".

Despite this statement, however, in such a highly commercial society like ours it could be said that the majority confuse the price of things with intrinsic value, as if the folly of not knowing how to distinguish the real value from apparent value had pervaded. And so we think that the fundamental issue underlying the apparent commercialization is a mentality in which appearances are the measure of all things, and for which, therefore, people don't only value their appearance, prestige and status – as dictated by public opinion - but everything becomes shallow through a kind of oblivion or blindness in respect to what we might call the "spirit" of people and all things.

We all understand the type of person for whom this is so, and in history it was Erich Fromm who lent a name we could use to address a “merchant-oriented" personality. This phrase does not simply refer to people with a commercial spirit, but something more subtle and wide: people who, without knowing they're doing it, go through life selling an idealized image of themselves that masks the expression of their true feelings and true thoughts; people become the image that they sell – which amounts to falsehood, or counterfeit. So, to speak about a commercial spirit is not simply to speak of a desire to deal with life, but a process of falsification that removes value from life while transferring it to gold or electronic bits, which basically are but symbols of a statement, or a transferable debt.[1]

Besides suiting those who want to sell propaganda, to exalt the value of that which they sell and hide the flaws is a forgery, the same as the desire to change things (or ideals) into money, which is the result of the implicit falsification that money is worth more than anything. Therefore Alan Watts (who was something of the culture hero of California in the 60s) used to advise young people to become aware of what they wanted to do with their lives and then proceed to do so, without taking into account the need to earn money, which condemns people to dedicate themselves to an automatic process whose internal logic eventually directs their lives, so that their children can also make money, and so on through the generations.

Probably the economy would not have become so important in our lives if it had not been for a kind of demonic illusion that money is worth more than life itself, and that we should care more for the goods than good. We could say that it is this shift of our interest from life itself and its intrinsic value to the value of the market that constitutes the heart of industrial capitalism and its echo in consumerism, but we can also say that the body of commercialism is in the sale of ourselves, our energies and our work in the labor market.

Do we have an alternative? While collectively we are part of a "market economy" in which wealthy people are those who are in a position to offer work to people who have only their own energy and talents, in these times of unemployment and inadequate wages it is not only the coffee pickers in Africa who commit suicide, but growing numbers of people in Europe, in the East and even in the USA. We can say that this is an aspect of the current crisis of capitalist society, but we should not be mistaken into thinking that the problem is reduced to the production, unemployment or finances when what is becoming questionable is the concept that our work and our lives can be considered commodities.

Here we see the same mentality as that in the last century which involved selling or buying slaves, with the argument that black Africans could be treated as objects to be bought and sold because they were not people. Only now our enslavers want to convince us (through economists) that they are uniquely ’the laws of the market’ for us in this situation. And while nobody tells us that we are objects, we are simply treated as such, to dehumanize us.

In addition to the deception (and self-deception) that involves confusing use with market value (or between value and price), and also deception involving the concealment of power and concealment of corruption (mainly the same power), other specific falsehoods associated with our economic life, and notably the neoliberal doctrine that there is no better guarantee of democracy than "free markets"; that is, the alleged absence of intervention by a government regulation on trade.

It has been notable, in addition, that the attempted philosophical deception through which people have tried to degrade the concept of freedom as a "freedom to buy and sell", using the prestige of the word "freedom" as propaganda for an aggressive trade that little had been agreed by the people who were supposed to accept it in view of globalization.

In the free market, faith has achieved a prestige similar to religious dogmas in view of the heresy that it came to question, but today this faith has collapsed in the face of the financial and economic crisis as well as in the face of the ideological crisis to which such misconception has led. And it is not difficult to find, in the field of economic life, other false beliefs that seem to derive their force from what serves the power, as for example, in our consumerist society (originating from the desire of producers to sell efficient seduction and find buyers through the mediums of communication), consumerism works as if it planted in the public a sense that their next purchase would be a step towards their happiness. And so pleasure itself, without being more than a transitory satisfaction, can become a vice for those who, confused, perceive it as a gateway to happiness; also the act of buying something can serve as a true antidote to depression, to the loss of meaning in life, to the point that one could sometimes say that the buyer feels implicitly, however absurd it may seem: "I buy, therefore I am".

In short: if at the time of the great classical civilizations, the world seemed keenly interested in the good and today is more interested in goods, it is reasonable to think that it must have undergone a hoax. But perhaps the main deception of the commercial spirit is the pretense of the economy that their accounts and their equations are sufficient to explain the economic reality, and one can imagine that this simple deceit is an important factor in the reorientation of collective economic life toward our common good.

Obviously, the implementation of our supposed economic science has been made evil by such neglect of both the good of the majority, and its predatory effect on our environment, and to such an extent as to be able to say that we do have not a sustainable modus vivendi. And the crux of this deception involves, as has been very well analyzed by Federico Aguilera[2], the assumption that the economy works as a closed system - being that in nature all the processes occur in open systems.

We can dispense with the human impact of commercial transactions in our economic analysis, but only by ignoring the catastrophic consequences that are already becoming apparent to the public without even resorting to Wikileaks. But this deception, through which a set of rational statements is proposed as valid and efficient regardless of its results, like the controversies of technology and of scholastics before the emergence of science and empiricism, can be conceived in turn as part of a more comprehensive deception, by which we pretend that our rational and instrumental intellect is more valid than the intellect that sits in the other half (right) of our brain, whose function is not rational but intuitive, and which allows us to see things in their context.

Iain McGilchrist, who has offered the most complete synthesis of what has come to be known of our cerebral hemispheres, has argued[3] that we have virtually lost contact with the information from our right hemisphere, in view of the growth of technological culture, and he has compared the phenomenon with an arrogant imposture of our “sinister“ hemisphere, which originally was only a servant of our mind, to deal with corresponding details. In other words: our instrumental mind, growing proud (in view of its power over the environment) of its ignorance and its indifference to its lack of values, has been proclaimed mistress of truth, and this has legitimized its own hegemony.

From this point of view, naturally, we should aspire as much to a more exact economic science as to a synthesis between understanding and philanthropy, as in the case of medicine, which at least is supposed to include both science and art in the will to heal.


[1] The first step in the transformation of money into value was recently analyzed by Felix Martin in her book Money, who attributes such erroneous perception to the 2008 crisis.

[2] Federico Aguilera Klinck. "Sobre la deshumanización de la economía y de los economistas" in “Para una rehumanización de la economía y la sociedad“ (coordinated by Aguilera)—Mediterráneo Económico 23.

[3] Iain McGilchrist. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press. 2009.