I just experienced an uplifting little example of how trust facilitates exchange and conserves the ultimate resource.
My wife Susan and I are in northern New Hampshire on a one-week hiking vacation. On our way to buy groceries today we passed a sign saying “best sweet corn”–a top item on our list for tonight’s dinner–so we turned in … But saw no one there. Were they closed on Sundays?
No! There were prices written on two unlocked refrigerators, and under an awning by the large “Welcome” banner stood an old-fashioned milk can by a sign that said, “Pay here.”
How great is that? An honor-system farm stand.
A woman who had turned in ahead of us asked if we had change for a $20 bill; she wanted only a dozen ears, $6 worth. We found change for her, put $3 in the can for ourselves and took a half dozen ears from the refrigerator. After paying her $6, the woman took her dozen, and we all went away happy. And the farmer got paid.
That farm stand makes me feel good about the human race.
It also impresses on me again the value of trust and honest dealings to human well-being. If the owners of that farm stand were not able to trust that passers-by would pay for the corn and vegetables (and Christmas ornaments!) for sale there, and if they are not able to tend their stand all Sunday, then our exchanges of dollars for corn would not have occurred, and on both sides we would all be worse off. (The corn was sweet, by the way.)
And because the farm stand owners can and do trust that we passers-by will pay, no one needed to spend precious time tending that farm stand. Whoever would have had to be there to take our money this afternoon could instead devote that time to something else that otherwise could not be accomplished. In the great Julian Simon’s memorable term, human time and talent is “the ultimate resource.” Trust frees us from having to spend that resource merely to protect our rights; it lets us spend it on additional satisfactions instead.