Marketing is a business which is honest and necessary for the commonwealth if it confines itself to the export and import of things that are advantageous to the commonwealth for living well and in a holy way, but not those which encourage and foster impious pomp and luxury. In order to benefit men’s piety, this purpose ought never to be absent from the thoughts and deeds of Christians but should always be considered and weighed as scrupulously as possible.
Therefore, inasmuch as merchants pretty commonly reject this purpose, they burst forth with wickedness and greed, so that next to the false clergy there is no type of men more pestiferous to the commonwealth. For, in the first place, for the sweet odor of gain, of which they accumulate an immense amount with little work through their nefarious skills, and for the splendor of pomp and luxury, of which they recognize no measure or limit, they attract the more outstanding talents, which if they were dedicated to philosophy, could be of very great use both to the State and the Church. In the second place, just as Plutus is not unrealistically depicted as blind and fearful, they blind and emasculate the hearts of well-born adolescents and youth. For they cover their minds with the darkness of perverse judgment, so that they judge nothing to be important but to excel in the accumulation of wealth, through good and evil means, and in the expenditure of what has been accumulated in all kinds of worthless ways of life.
This matter is a grave occasion for envy, and occurs not without danger and harm to many, indeed to the entire commonwealth, as these harpies push themselves to the fore and then bend and soften up all disciples they can find with an extreme adulation for all who they suspect have the ability to resist their destructive activities, making them at the same time the recipients of their largess. And since they must often live immoderately, they perpetrate frauds in business, multiply profits wherever they can, increase monopolies in order to make a gain not only for their limitless luxury but also for the constant increase in the interest they are taking. It also happens frequently that they influence the councils and impede the law courts of the princes for their own ends, so as to remove the obstacles to their artful trickery. They imitate Verres, who said that he stole not only enough for his own luxury, however extreme, but also in order to have enough to give to his patrons, defenders, and the judges themselves so that he might escape the penalties for his thefts.
Furthermore, they daily invent astonishing enticements for the purchase of their trifling wares, which are designed and prepared only for impious luxury and pomp, and they seduce nobles and other wealthy men of little thrift into buying them. And when they do not have enough money for these trifles which are esteemed as the ornaments of the nobility and its social status), there is at hand the money of the merchants, but at interest, and such a poisonous interest that within a very brief time whole families are destroyed and overthrown.
To this point of ruin these leeches of the commonwealth bring a great number of people by their ostentatious luxury, while men of more honorable origin and station judge it disgraceful to yield to the merchants who have but recently emerged from an obscure and sordid station through their nefarious skills. And so while these emulate the excessive luxury of the merchants in the splendor and magnificence of their buildings, in the ornateness of their clothing and other adornments, in the pomp and lavishness of banquets and other displays of luxury, they bring their own patrimony to ruin and so fail in their resources that their better belongings are transferred to those very merchants themselves. Thus the commonwealth is daily drained of men of finer and more generous spirit, as can be seen by the ruin of so many outstanding noble families which has been accomplished within the space of a few years, and by the irresponsibility and sloth in regard to all the pursuits useful to the commonwealth on the part of those who succeed the old families in power and dignity.
Since in so many ways this crooked kind of merchants and tradesmen is harmful and pernicious for the people of God, there must also be a chapter for the reform of merchandising in the law under which, for the suppression of godless idleness, a wholesome industry is to be restored.
And in this it must be ordered, first, that nobody should be allowed to enter merchandising whom officials have not judged suitable for this sort of thing, having found him to be pious, a lover of the commonwealth rather than of private interest, eager for sobriety and temperance, vigilant and industrious. Secondly, that these should not import or export merchandise other than what Your Majesty has decreed. And he shall decree that only those things are to be exported of which the people of the realm really have an abundance so that their export may be of no less benefit to the people of this realm, to whom these things are surplus, than to those who take them to foreign countries and make a profit on them. So also he should permit no merchandise to be imported except what he judges good for the pious, sober, and salutary use of the commonwealth. Finally, that a definite and fair price should be established for individual items of merchandise, which can easily be arranged and is very necessary (so fiery is human avarice) for conserving justice and decency among the citizens.
The same statutes must apply to peddlars and retailers, to which task, as it is lowly and sordid, no one should be admitted unless he is lacking in ability or has a physical incapacity so as to render him unsuitable for more liberal skills, as was the opinion of Plato also.