The Economics of Morality?

The following was originally constructed as a response to a video presented by the Alaska Republican Party’s Facebook page. The video can be found here:

 

Republicans, here’s the thing… why try, in the first place, to cast capitalism as a moral system? Honestly, that’s just silly. It’s an economic system supported by a political outlook, but it does NOT have a moral aspect. As a system, it is neither virtuous nor evil; neither righteous nor scurrilous. It’s simply the method by which we manage production and trade.

I would ask, “Why can’t it just be that,” but I know the answer; Republicans foolishly fall for the left-wing narrative that casts capitalism is immoral. I get it. Republicans are a bit tighter aligned with the religious right and don’t want to lose points to the moral aspect. But why offer up such a shallow and ridiculous response? Because the truth is, while capitalism itself holds no moral aspect, some capitalists ARE immoral. Some ARE greedy. Some ARE consumed by profit, and sometimes the poor ARE trampled. But, that’s not a fault of capitalism, that’s a fault of people. Accept that. Why fight it? It’s an obvious and easy response. Capitalism IS a good economic system, and one that fits well with our liberal democracy. Leave it at that.

But, when you follow the drivel of this video, you do capitalism a disservice. You dumb it down. It is true that “free market calls for voluntary actions,” as the video suggests, and in that sense, money acts as an incentive for a value exchange. To cast it as a measure of “service” rather than of value is to subvert and misconstrue the purpose of a medium of exchange. Would Christ have said, in Matthew 19:12 “go and sell all that you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven” if money was a “certificate of performance” as the video suggests? No, he would have said that a fat wallet was proof of the Rich Young Man’s righteousness. Moreover, to suggest that using a government program “to get a food stamp, a farm subsidy, or a business bail out” is an assault on one’s fellow citizens is simply red-meat kool-aid. Now, I would agree that asking some, even many, people to “serve their fellow man in order to have a claim” is a good idea. We have plenty of public needs that could be managed by those in need of assistance. But at the same time, there are still plenty of people that face situations by which service would be impractical or unmanageable. Their inability to provide service does not make them immoral, as this video indirectly suggests.

Nor, for that matter, is the explanation of the auto-crisis quite as simplistic as Dr. Williams puts forth. By framing the crisis simply as one in which the Big Three “were producing cars that did not please a sufficient number of their fellow men,” the ridiculous ease of a solution like “sell your plant and equipment to somebody who can do a better job,” can be delivered with a straight face. Is the corporation simply the managers, stockholders, and customers? Do the workers, their livelihoods and families not factor into the decision to offer the bail out? They are never mentioned by Dr. Williams. Might that be on purpose, so that his over-simplification of the crisis and the government response can stand up?

And lastly, the argument that all of this was part of the plan of the Founders is a difficult one, particularly when it is over-simplified (yet again) in the manner shown in this video. Did the Founders argue for a limited government? Yes. Federalist 45 is, honestly, what keeps me a Republican. The government closest to me, knows me the best, and thus can serve my interests better as a result. So, with that argument open and available, why use the Article 1, section 8 argument? And, moreover, why do so while displaying the images of Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and Hamilton? The only Founder pictured that argued for strict adherence was Jefferson – the founder of what would become the Democrat party. Franklin, in fact, was part of a group that argued in 1790 for Congress “to take whatever action it deemed ‘necessary and proper’ to eliminate the stigma of traffic in human beings” even though that went against the limitations placed on the Federal Government in Article 1, Section 9. Likewise, Hamilton argued in favor of a National Bank as Treasury Secretary and Washington agreed with him, even though no such power to create one was to be found in Article 1, Section 8. Dr. Williams is cherry picking his justification here, and quite clumsily. The limited government design of 1787 did not “produce the wealthiest nation in history.” Capitalism was in its infancy in 1787, and Hamilton was certainly not arguing in favor of what we would today call the “free-market,” but rather state-led capitalism. Yeah – I know… awkward.

So, my point is this: capitalism is a good system. Allow it to be that. Allow it to do the things that it does well without wrapping it in red meat, jingoism, or nationalism. I know, I know… that tends to garner the approval of the low-hanging fruit, but it is rather off-putting to the rest of us. Capitalism has SOLID merits. Hell, even well known liberal activist, Bono, has said “capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid,” so one can even claim that capitalism CAN lead to moral activity. But why use an overly simplified argument that is also a BAD argument? Just to counter the paper-tiger argument of SOME Democrats? Just to keep the masses riled? Just to appeal to some kind of spiritual aspect? Do we really need to rely on exploitation? How about we just make good arguments? Madison did in Federalist 45, and it keeps me a Republican today. I suppose that not getting on the kool-aid trough risks me being called a RiNO, but if that is now the operating mentality of the GOP, I might suggest that such brilliant Republicans as Lincoln, Garfield, Roosevelt, Lodge, Taft, Eisenhower, Rockefeller, and even… yes… Reagan, would be considered outside the pale.

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3 thoughts on “The Economics of Morality?

  1. Nicely said. People NEED to see this kind of discourse and elevate it. Might be a bit over some heads but the framework and sentiment is real. Very cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Perry Lewis,
    Thank you for starting this blog. I always appreciate your educated and sourced arguments on FB and am disappointed that there is a need to neuter your thoughts for the “comfort” of “friends.” Discourse is the vehicle that has carried us from colonization to the 21st century, it’s unfortunate that many have turned their backs on the art of disagreement.

    Two questions in response to your post:
    1. Is class mobilization still possible in the 21st-century version of American capitalism that has shifted from a “manufacturing first” economy to a “management first” business mindset? It seems that CEO’s are no longer the engineers who started on the production lines, but MBA’s who studied management at Notre Dame who have never experienced movement between the classes.
    2. Our country’s rapid industrialization came as a result of our access to cheap energy and brilliant innovation. In the 21st-century, can capitalism evolve to compensate for the change in business culture as well as the need to consider the health of our planet?
    3. Is there a better way?

    Cheers!
    -Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul – thank you for the kind words. Honestly, I think this will be a better forum anyway, as it lends itself to longer discussion. Plus, I plan on posting links to new blogs on FB as published, so a discussion can always ensue in that arena as well.

      1. I would not generally suggest that class mobilization was ever an overly real thing in America. The truth is, America has ALWAYS been a package deal that was “too good to be true.” Which is not to say that life in America is terrible, or that improving one’s self is impossible, BUT we cast the net for what constitutes the middle class quite large, and as a result, we see some lateral movement and are satisfied. Part of what spurred this video is the argument by Democrats that capitalism itself is immoral, and as such, we should move to a different system. This belief, in turn, comes from the increase (seemingly) is the wage gap and inequality between the poorest and wealthiest Americans. That said, the following article from The Economist (2014) suggests that class-mobilization is the same now as it was 20 years ago — my observation would also be, it wasn’t overly large 20 years ago either. http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21595437-america-no-less-socially-mobile-it-was-generation-ago-mobility-measured

      2. This is a harder question to respond to, because in some sense, we have reached a point in globalization where the discussion about “our country” and “economic competition” cannot be discussed exclusively. While Benjamin Barber’s essay, Jihad v. McWorld is now 25 years old, I think it still lays out the significant problems that have come from globalized economies when it comes to modern enterprise. Certainly one can see overtures to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and numerous Africa countries within the context of his writing. In all honesty, I think the best way to settle things back down, if that is to be a desired event, is to work with more localized economies and to embrace green economies. When I was in Germany a couple years ago, I was actually shocked by HOW WELL they seemed to be dealing with urbanization and Green technology, so maybe there is something there.
      https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1992/03/jihad-vs-mcworld/303882/

      3. That is a wonderful question. I think there has to be, but it will involve sacrifice, both physical and ideological, on behalf of Americans — and I am not sure we are willing to that quite yet.

      Like

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