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_Moral Markets: the critical role of values in the economy_ (Princeton, 2008)

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  • Gary E. Davis
    In the last few years several academic tomes have gained prominence in pursuing issues of inherent morality in markets (e.g., that which is fair is inherent to
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3 1:39 PM
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      In the last few years several academic tomes have gained prominence in pursuing issues of inherent morality in markets (e.g., that which is fair is inherent to freedom, such that a market *isn't* free when it's not fair), contrasting with the self-defeating legacy of largely finding immorality in markets (e.g., the New Left---and The Frankfurt School?). Those moral-economic studies I have in mind have been socioeconomic and historiographical. But a new collection of essays, _Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy_ (Princeton, 2008), edited by M.C Jensen and P.J. Zak, brings contemporary perspectives on evolution into the mix, which, I anticipate, gives new life to theorizing social evolution (but now in a neo-Aristotelian vein), beyond but concordantly with Habermas' theory and aspirations (though not in a spirit of rescuing Kant).

      Empathy and trust "enable people to capture social benefits through exchange," notes Matt Ridley, author of _The Origins of Virtue_, in praising _Moral Markets_. "Markets nurture" that capturing.

      From the book description of _Moral Markets_: "Drawing on converging evidence from neuroscience, social science, biology, law, and philosophy, _Moral Markets_ makes the case that modern market exchange works only because most people, most of the time, act virtously." So, it seems, the market works better inasmuch as it serves a primacy of ethical motivation, which markets also tend to advance. (Ethical markets work better.)

      One contributor to _Moral Markets_, Herb Gintis, discusses the book at Amazon.com, from which I'll pull a few quotes.

      In Gintis' words (after claiming that this area is "a specialty of mine"), "the market economy accustoms people to cooperating and sharing with strangers of different race, creed, and ethnicity, thus promoting a sense of fairness and tolerance that is generally absent from pre-market societies, in which charity and considerateness are extended only to family and close friends....'The very freedom of exchange in markets celebrates individual dignity and choice,' says [editor] Zak," Gintis continues. "...[S]ocial interactions in a market economy are [not] determined by legally enforceable contract alone, but rather by mutual trust and honesty, without which the rule of law is but a hollow shell....[T]he character virtues of honest[y], trustworthiness, fairness, tolerance, and loyalty are precisely what is needed to underpin social relations in a market society where agreements cannot be enforced by law alon[e]....[M]oral emotions are precisely what motivates us to honor our
      commitments when naked material gain might induce us to behave otherwise."

      Gintis then mentions the later parts of the book which emphasize the evolutionary background of ethical motivation, which shows a Lemarckian dimension of intergenerational selection for ethical motivation, such that "humans are the first species to have a cumulative culture...that...became the basis for genetic development of prosociality in our species." (Prosociality is not merely sociality; chimps are social. Prosociality is the *interest* in *facilitating* social development, not just imitating what's given by the earlier generation, i.e., prosociality is not basically a matter of hard-wired sociality---rather, a matter of hard-wired interest in care). "This explains why most humans derive pleasure and satisfaction from doing good to others and living up to standards of virtuous living."

      The genius of this---a genius of social evolution---is that the ethical market tends to succeed better than the unethical market. Ethical materiality works better. "I think," Gintis concludes, "[that] political democracy, civil liberties, and gender equality are intimately bound up with private property and market exchange, because powerful movements for political emancipation have been most salient in societies with modern market economies. Future research should explain why these political and economic institutions have so deep an elective affinity, and how the blessing of liberty and personal dignity can be extended the world over."



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