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Markets and Morals

“Markets corrode moral character and capitalism is to blame.”

This was the message in well over 10% of the final essays I assigned for my intro Econ class. This is only noteworthy because my assignment simply asked students to peruse the news over the last six months for something that is interesting to them and hotly debated. Their task simply was to go to the peer reviewed economics literature to tell us what the current state of economic knowledge was out there.

In other words, the above observation is a non-sequitur. I’m not planning on addressing the charge today beyond this simple point … I am pretty convinced that almost nobody is qualified to make such a claim.

To see why, without having to play the easy relativist game that non-market interactions are worse, just rewrite the above observation literally:

“Formal and informal interactions between potential buyers and sellers of things of value corrode moral character and allowing such interactions to happen under private property institutional arrangements in accordance with the Rule of Law is to blame.”

In other words most people couldn’t even begin to explain what they are talking about. But it sounds pretty bouncing off of the walls of their echo chamber. I may of course be in my own even as I do my best to avoid it.

5 Responses to “Markets and Morals”

  1. Harry says:

    I would not worry about being your own echo chamber, WC. In economics, where one tries to understand the way the world works, especially when there are money consequences, one should always examine one’s rationale.

    Indeed, often, for the sake of argument, you concede many assumptions to get the discussion going and to focus on a single line of reasoning.

    Would that the Marxists do the same. But instead, professors who should know better appeal to juvenile sensibilities of fairness and justice, often implying ironically that the “enemy” are Neanderthal bigots. That is an echo chamber.

    • chuck martel says:

      How many “Marxists” have actually studied, or even read Marx at all? For them, and many others, Marx was some bearded entity who gave philosophical justification for the resentment of unequal outcomes and sanctioned the redistribution of the ill-gotten gains of the “rich” to the oppressed working “poor”. They’re pretty much unaware that his description of rigid class barriers was invalid during his own era just as it is now and that his historicism has never been justified in reality. The usually intoxicated Marx would probably disown his supposed followers if he were alive today.

      • Harry says:

        Good point, Chuck.

        I should have said self-described Marxists who do the describing when they are in the right company.

        Who knows what Marx would have said? Were he to occupy an office next to you or Wintercow, I doubt he would be a cricket in discussing the practical application of “Marxism.”

  2. Speedmaster says:

    Yessir. To wit …

    It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.
    – Murray Rothbard

  3. Harry says:

    I note your comment about the “relativist” game, and that is a great point. It is easy to compare one’s situation with starvation in North Korea and the one chicken per month in Cuba.

    The key element is a free exchange, supported by the rule of law that sanctions contracts. The operative word is free.

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