When Does ‘I Want’ Become ‘You Must’?

I think it’s important that we remember that the Law of Supply and Demand does not state, “Someone else must supply what I demand.”

Economics Basics: Demand and Supply
(“Economics Basics: Demand and Supply,” by Fabio Venni, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

We would do well to remember it when we “demand” anything, of anyone, whether we do so with a threat or simply without offering any recompense, and whether we do so to benefit ourselves or on behalf of others. It is one thing to make a request, or to suggest an exchange of value that someone else may consider, and quite another to make a demand.

The Rush song “Something for Nothing” comes to mind, e.g., “you can’t have freedom for free.”*

It seems to me like the most basic economics. We want (and even perhaps need) something that someone else has, and we either: request them to share it, offer to earn or purchase it, or demand to be given it. The first is mendicity, and meeting the request would be charity; the second is commerce and industry, and accepting the offer would lead to an exchange of value; the third may range from immaturity to larceny, and meeting the demand would seem to be little more than acquiescence and an invitation to further demands.

So far as I can tell, then, “I want” does not require or even imply “you must.”

*As much as I would like to quote more of the song, I’m not convinced a longer quote would be considered “fair use” and my respect for their copyright prevents me from doing so.

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