Commerce rather than Economy

I prefer the term commerce over economy when referring to the function system that uses money as its symbolically generalized communication medium. Economy lacks precision; it can mean the wealth or resources of a country or region, careful management of available resources, thrift, good husbandry, etc. Much of the imprecision derives from the article the. We can speak of the economy or just economy. This isn’t the case with commerce.

But when it comes to using money as a symbolically generalized communication medium, words like thrift don’t work well because this usage excludes all the wasteful, thoughtless, and even illegal uses of money. Commerce, in contrast, is value-neutral; it doesn’t distinguish between grocery shopping and human trafficking. Moreover, this value-neutrality makes the word more suitable for science communication.

The adjective commercial also works better than economic. So we can speak of the commercial system, the legal system, the political system, etc. The term commercialization is also preferable to economization because the latter term is an extension of the infinitive to economize. A person or organization may economize by saving money rather than spending it. We may also economize by using time or other “resources” more efficiently.   Economization, therefore, might be defined as using any resource more efficiently, rather than “the economy” taking over other function systems.

I suppose the word economy gained currency there it wouldn’t work to call an economist a commercialist.

The word economy appears in phrases like “the economy of the power to punish” (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 90), which is confusing if we think of economy or the economy in terms of buying and selling. The economy of power means the way resources are deployed to punish.

But if commerce or commercial system doesn’t work, another option is market economy, and I’ve seen this usage in the systems that literature; however, the problem with this is that not all economies are market economies. A market economy is a system where a consumer or business or whatever selects from multiple merchants or suppliers and there are no tight linkages between buyers and sellers. But this isn’t how commerce works. Buyers might only deal with seller, such as when there is just one grocery store or hardware store or hospital in a town. Markets are also supposed to be impersonal, with prices being the only deciding factor in any purchase; however, a buyer might shop at the same hardware store all the time because he has developed a relationship with that store or the people working there; it’s “his” hardware store and he feels a sense of loyalty. On a larger scale, a corporations have established supply chains that facilitate long-term planning. Large corporations don’t simply make day-to-day purchasing decisions based on market prices.

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