Front Page Titles (by Subject) Exchange and the Propensity to Truck - The Economic Point of View
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Exchange and the Propensity to Truck - Israel M. Kirzner, The Economic Point of View 
The Economic Point of View: An Essay in the History of Economic Thought, ed. with an Introduction by Laurence S. Moss (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews McMeel, 1976).
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Exchange and the Propensity to Truck
The first aspect of the exchange phenomenon that deserves attention is the status of the act of exchange as an element in the activity of an individual. Adam Smith saw exchange as the result of a human propensity to barter. Whately defined man as an animal that exchanges. Now, human beings engage in barter because they hope to improve their positions by exchanging. The act of exchange is thus no different in this respect from all human actions that are undertaken in the hope of improving one’s position. Of course, the act of exchange involves the cooperation of another person, but some further property is needed to distinguish exchange from other forms of cooperation or from the act of bestowing a gift upon one’s fellow man. It is here that the concept of exchange becomes entangled with ideas of sacrifice, of the mutual coincidence of interests, and the like.
In a number of the definitions of the economic that are couched in terms of exchange, the aspect that is stressed is the fact that exchange involves a quid pro quo. In an atmosphere in which economics and self-interest were linked together, the most characteristic feature of exchange is that it provides a new means of getting something for oneself. It is this aspect of commercial behavior that aroused the ire and moral indignation of Ruskin against the “cash-payment relation” between man and man. Exchange suggests the habit of helping one’s neighbor only on the condition that one will be more than repaid in return.
If this aspect of exchange is implicit in the notion of a science of exchanges, then there appears good reason to reject Walker’s contention that in the absence of a clear conception of what is being exchanged a science of exchanges has no meaning. Perry, against whom Walker was arguing, did, in fact, in one connection define economics as concerned with actions done by one person to another for the sake of receiving something in return.17 Clearly this points to the real meaning behind Perry’s exchange formulation. There is no urgent need to introduce any concept of wealth to make precise the definition of economic activity as that which is directed to another person for the sake of obtaining something in return.
In this form, the conception of economic activity as exchange is closely parallel to the “non-tuism” that was noticed in the previous chapter. Wicksteed’s definition of the economic relationship in terms of a lack of regard for the interests of the person with whom one is dealing was given alternative expression as the “relationship into which men spontaneously enter, when they find that they can best further their own purposes by approaching them indirectly”; and as involving man in the search for “some one else to whose purposes he can directly devote his powers or lend his resources...” “The industrial world is a spontaneous organization for transmuting what every man has into what he desires...”18 Exchange in this context is the device whereby a man can get the things he wants by giving up to another the things he has. The entire realm of economic affairs, in this form of the catallactic view, is a vast net of relationships in which this device is being put to work. Several other American writers at the turn of the century seem to have in mind this aspect of exchange as a means of enticing one’s fellow man to provide one with the goods one desires.19 The “propensity to truck” must be understood as the faculty that men possess of recognizing situations in which the device of exchange, understood in this sense, would prove profitable.
[]A. L. Perry, An Introduction to Political Economy (New York, 1877), p. 12.
[]P. Wicksteed, “The Scope and Method of Political Economy,” Economic Journal, March, 1914, reprinted in Common Sense of Political Economy, II, 781.
[]See S. Newcomb, Principles of Political Economy (New York, 1886), p. 6; F. B. Hawley, “A Positive Theory of Economics,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1902, pp. 233 f.