No Invisible Hand, but Invisible Agents

Charles Fourier, “Angels in the Market,” The Una, June, 1855:92.

As the effects of the financial panic of 1854 were still being felt, Simon Crosby Hewitt, who was publishing, for a time, both the New Era and Paulina Wright Davis’ newspaper, The Una, ran a translated selection from Charles Fourier which Hewitt believed was connected to the “commercial structures” the spirits were dictating to him and other New England spiritualists who had long been promoters of Fourieristic ideas of a socialist economy, which Hewitt, along with Brook Farm alumni and spiritualists John Orvis and John Allen would soon try to help John Murray Spear inaugurate.  They published a prospectus for a cooperative organization, the New England Association of Philanthropic Commercialists, which would attempt to put into practice the angelic market described below by Fourier, beginning with a commodity exchange market between Boston and New York on one end (supplying manufactured goods) and Chicago on the other end (supplying wheat).  Capital investors willing to risk much were very scarce at the time, however, and the idea did not bear fruit.  During this time, John Spear’s guiding spirits inspired him with an idea for a kind of telepathic stock-ticker.  Mediums at the major market cities in the country would mentally telegraph commodity and stock prices to one another by wearing special caps into which were woven wires that would then string off in various directions representing the compass headings in which were situated the other mediums—like metal beanies or skull caps, perhaps, with long, limp antennae.  This way, instantaneous intelligence about commodity prices would be available, it was supposed, to all the public, not just the rich capitalist speculators.—JB


Suppose that the guardian angels who accompany each of us, and who thoroughly know our thoughts and actions, should receive from God orders to speak aloud the full truth in every affair of commerce, to give the lie to every deceiver, whether seller or buyer; the present methods of deception would then become impossible, our commercial mechanism would be altered—reduced to a direct exchange.  Let us see.  A certain merchant says to the purchaser: “Here is a fine and good blue cloth—you shall have it, as a friend, at five dollars a yard; I make nothing by it, on my honor!  I love money, but it is to oblige you.”  Immediately the invisible angel would say: “Thou wouldst cheat this man.  The cloth is of a false dye—you bought it as such, at three dollars a yard, and you want to gain more than fifty per cent, saying that it is a good dye, and that you lose money by it.”  Whereupon the buyer says: “Ah ha!  You would mystify me with your fine words; good morning, my dear friend of commerce.  Thanks, Signor angel.  Ah! How amiable the guardian angels are; they tell the truth!”  Then the merchant, forsaken and furious, would cry: “Citizen angel, if you do not hold your tongue, it will be impossible to make a trade; you ruin us, you make all our sales miscarry.”  “Yes,” replies the angel; “thou shalt be confounded as often as thou liest; I will not let the smallest falsehood pass.”

Pointing AngelAnd thus the wine merchant who should say to the purchaser: “Here is true Madeira—delicious—which I will let you have at a dollar.  I have but little left; only for a few friends.  I have kept a basket for you, because you are a friend of the house; I sell it to others at $1.50, but I don’t want to make anything out of you—it is all in friendship.”  Then the guardian angel will say, in a loud voice: “Thou hast lied!  Thou hast made this wine two days ago with alcohol, alum, and other drugs; it does not contain a drop of Madeira, and does not cost you twenty cents.  You want to gain 500 per cent, under pretence of friendship.”  The purchaser retires exclaiming, “Long live the guardian angels!  We shall no longer be the victims of merchants.”  And the wine merchant, left in the lurch cries: “Will you be quiet, scamp of a guardian angel?  Cursed dog!  Enemy of the trade!”

Thereupon the merchants in chorus would say: “We can no longer live if justice does not hang these rascally angels.  But how proceed?  We can’t see them; we can’t catch them.  Alas! The trade is ruined!  The angels assassinate us!  We can no longer sell our merchandise at friendly prices.  These monsters tell all the secrets of the trade; it is death on commerce!”  Ah, cursed truth!  Cursed angels!  People would know by the angels the real value and defects of every article exposed for sale.  Only the real prices would be granted, the price of their intrinsic value, at an equitable and admitted profit, plus the expenses of transportation.  And in this state of things all commerce would be transformed into great exchanges, at whose depots of storage each article would be subjected to scrutiny, and its true price affixed to it by the officers of the depot, who have no interest to favor or to fleece either the consigner or purchaser in the agency which they conduct, since their fixed salaries will not depend on any pro rata commissions on the goods which pass through their hands.  Deception and bargaining would then be out of the question, the rows of shopkeepers who garnish our streets would be useless, and must return to productive labor; sales being prompt and easy, orders would be sent from a distance, saving the purchaser the expense and time of a journey.  Besides, the great depots would expedite to every part of the world, whatever should be assured of consumption there.  This method would restore millions of producers to agriculture, and effect a prodigious celerity in transactions which would be at the same time multiplied in number, since many a purchase and many an enterprise are now prevented by the risk of frauds.

Let us establish, in every commercial relation, methods conferring the same guaranty of truth as the intervention of guardian angels; the present commercial mechanism would then be dissolved, and depots for mutual exchange instituted in its stead.  It is actually a scaffolding of falsehoods, a complication of the most ruinous character by obstructing exchanges, falsifying values and tending to explode in bankruptcies.  Between Russia and China, commerce was at one time completely suspended by mutual intents to ensnare.  The Russians brought false peltries and the Chinese false tea.  Nearly all the articles in our wine shops and second-rate groceries are spurious, or of bad quality.  In Paris, whole tons of putrid meat and cheese are case by the sanitary police into sinks, and fished up thence again by night, to be restored to consumption.  The city of New York, as well as those of Europe, eats beef and drinks milk from sick and rotten stall and swill-fed cattle.  Thus the Mercantile Spider stings and poisons its prey before devouring it.  And yet this insect and its social institutions are approved and set up as a pattern of virtues by our moralists, who pretend to seek the august truth.  Judge by this of their competence in questions of virtue and truth.  In the mechanism of True Commerce by unitary depots and continuous exchanges between the producers, mercantile agents would never be owners of the goods which they receive, appraise and distribute, but merely the factors of the producing mass.



[ Ephemera Home] [ Discovering Wealth ]