Dehumanization is a tendency of human affairs to become more impersonal. It has been argued that the industrial revolution, which brought with it huge "faceless corporations" and cities, has caused some dehumanization. However, according to Ludwig von Mises, this is not necessarily bad, because the impersonal nature of some commercial transactions can be liberating: "The freedom of man under capitalism is an effect of competition. The worker does not depend on the good graces of an employer. If his employer discharges him, he finds another employer. The consumer is not at the mercy of the shopkeeper. He is free to patronize another shop if he likes. Nobody must kiss other people's hands or fear their disfavor. Interpersonal relations are businesslike. The exchange of goods and services is mutual; it is not a favor to sell or to buy, it is a transaction dictated by selfishness on either side." If one's brother-in-law is one's grocer, then one may feel inhibited about switching to a competing grocer who offers better value, lest he find out; but if all the grocers are strangers, then one is free to choose based on quality and price, rather than on personal relationships.
The times past when relations were more "personal" were not necessarily more pleasant. There has always tended to be a cost for such personal relationships; one does not get something for nothing. Mises continues:
|“|| It is precisely the absence of this personal element in market transactions that all those deplore who blame capitalism for hard-heartedness and callousness. In the eyes of such critics cooperation under the do ut des principle dehumanizes all societal bonds. It substitutes contracts for brotherly love and readiness to help one another. These critics indict the legal order of capitalism for its neglect of the “human side.” They are inconsistent when they blame the charity system for its reliance upon feelings of mercy.
Feudal society was founded on acts of grace and on the gratitude of those favored. The mighty overlord bestowed a benefit upon the vassal and the latter owed him personal fidelity. Conditions were human in so far as the subordinates had to kiss their superiors’ hands and to show allegiance to them.
Under capitalism, he employer is not in search of sympathetic men whom he likes but efficient workers who are worth the money he pays them, but this cool rationality and objectivity of capitalist relations is, of course, not realized to the same degree in the whole field of business:
|“||The nearer a man’s function brings him to the consumers, the more personal factors interfere. In the service trades some role is played by sympathies and antipathies; relations are more “human.” Stubborn doctrinaires and adamant baiters of capitalism are prepared to call this an advantage. In fact it curtails the businessman’s and his employees’ personal freedom. A small shopkeeper, a barber, an innkeeper, and an actor are not so free in expressing their political or religious convictions as the owner of a cotton mill or a worker in a steel plant.||”|
- Mises, Ludwig von. "Poverty". Human Action. http://mises.org/humanaction/chap35sec2.asp.
- Mises, Ludwig von. "Profit Management". Bureaucracy. http://mises.org/etexts/Mises/bureaucracy/Section1.asp.