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Moderating the Dark Side of Emotional Morality with the Bright Side of Market Morality
By Dwight R. Lee
This article appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of The Independent Review


Abstract

Markets encourage us to see strangers as allies in our efforts to improve our lives, rather than as enemies to be plundered and eliminated before they plunder and eliminate us. A greater understanding of this feature of markets would improve the public’s moral appraisal of stereotypical market behavior.


Article

Making a convincing moral case for markets is difficult. The approach most often taken is to point to the desirable outcomes motivated by markets, many of which can be described as moral. Markets are unequaled in reducing poverty, improving environmental quality, decreasing discrimination, and providing opportunities for social and economic advance based on freedom and responsibility. These and other desirable market outcomes result from a spontaneous process of widespread social cooperation that few understand. Thus, the benefits that markets generate are easily taken for granted, with little appreciation being shown for the markets’ role in providing them. Even when market outcomes are appreciated, they are morally tainted in the minds of many because they are seen to result from motives that are morally dubious, if not outright immoral.

Stereotypical market behavior fails to satisfy the conditions that people associate emotionally with morality. One can make the case that given the right institutional arrangements, the pursuit of self-interest is a virtue on instrumental grounds, but few will be convinced. People do not evaluate morality entirely or even primarily in terms of outcomes, but in terms of the motives and means by which outcomes are generated. The motive of self-interest and the means of impersonal exchanges rank high on very few people’s scale of morality. As Joseph Schumpeter pointed out, “The stock exchange is a poor substitute for the Holy Grail” ([1942] 1950, 137)....



Other Independent Review articles by Dwight R. Lee
    Summer 2014   The Two Moralities of the Minimum Wage
    Fall 2011   Shrinking Leviathan: Can the Interaction Between Interests and Ideology Slice Both Ways?
    Winter 2010   Why Businessmen Are More Honest than Preachers, Politicians, and Professors
[View All (9)]



Volume 17 Number 2
Fall 2012

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