Yesterday I wrote a praise of the unpopular middleman and discussed some of the ways that brokers served essential roles in a world full of imperfect information and imperfect correspondence between those who want what others have to offer and those who have what others want, or between buyers and sellers, as we refer to them. Today, I would like to talk about the negative side of being in the middle, and that is being subject to vulnerability from both sides. While being in the middle in a world where people have a hard time coming to terms is of vital importance, it is not always to the benefit of those who operate in that vulnerable liminal space.
Let us talk about Ghislaine Maxwell and her deceased ex-partner, one Brian Epstein. The two of these people can be considered to have been brokers of a particularly delicate kind who brought together those who were selling their bodies and their time and those who had the means and desire to purchase both. From the time that men and women acquired large amounts of power, it has always been a nearly universal practice for these people to trade on that proximity of power to those who gratified their desires. Whether it was in rewarding fawning courtiers or rewarding court mistresses and favorites whose ability to gratify the sexual longings of rulers and elites made them hated and envied by their unsuccessful rivals for access and power and rewards, those with money and power have always been willing to give favors to those who gratified their unmet longings. And traditionally, those who brokered such things received a great deal of favor until it was no longer convenient for them to do so.
The fate that Maxwell and Epstein have suffered in being jailed and suicided, respectively, is not too dissimilar from the fate of those who rose and then fell from matching their young and nubile womenfolk to demanding monarchs like, say, King Henry VIII of England. To end up in jail or on the chopping block is the unfortunate price of those who bring what is wanted at too high of a price, or who cause some sort of offense or risk of danger to the power and honor of the ruler or elites. There are things that people want that are not lawful to obtain, and those who procure such goods put their own necks on the line in so doing. No matter how corrupt elites are, they have at least one defense in being able to stir up the anger and violence of the commonfolk against those who profit from providing that which the elites want and thus gaining the envy of all of those who are less successful at profiting from such access gained at such a high moral cost.
Not all brokers do so with the same degree of moral darkness in their deeds. The small business owner in colonial West Africa or South Central Los Angeles or Southeast Asia profited a small amount through an immense amount of hard work and hard-won knowledge about the preferences and behaviors of the local population that bought from them because they could not afford to buy from the large and elite businesses who had little time or interest in the well-being of ordinary people. Yet these brokers, even though they are doing good for the common people in providing them with that which no one else is willing to offer them at all because the risks are too great and the profits too low, are no less vulnerable to xenophobic hostility from those who envy success going to any outsiders or others, even if it is ultimately to their own benefit that such goods and services be provided that they are unwilling and unable to provide for themselves.
There are two separate aspects of vulnerability that middlemen suffer, regardless of what sort of service they provide in connecting buyers and sellers in any location at any time. For one, they are vulnerable because of the fear and greed of elites who want to monopolize power and who cannot deal with the debts that they owe to these middlemen who make it possible for them to live as they wish but who do not want to accept the loss of power that comes from allowing these outsiders to rise too high and obtain too much power and influence. For another, they are vulnerable to the envy and hostility of ordinary people who are denied the profits obtained by these middlemen because they are unable or unwilling to provide the service and products that are offered by these outsiders who appear to the unlearned and ignorant to be profiting at the expense of the local community rather than profiting that community and receiving a just and proper wage for so doing. He who walks down the middle of the road or connects people or joins others in the middle truly gets run over from both sides.