Official Disdain for Commerce

Most cultures have held trade and commerce in low regard. This is true in nearly all times and places, and whether people are rich or poor, religious or secular, and cuts across political beliefs. Governments don’t much like the merchant class either, even though this disdain is biting the hand that feeds. James C. Scott provides an example from ancient China on p. 131 of his thought-provoking 2017 book Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States:

One reason for the official distrust and stigmatization of the merchant class in China was the simple fact that its wealth, unlike that of the rice planter, was illegible, concealable, and fugitive. One might tax a market, or collect tolls on a road or river junction where goods and transactions were more transparent, but taxing merchants was a tax collector’s nightmare.

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