Research Project"What Good Markets Are Good For"
The Moral Aspirations behind Free Markets: Adam Smith & Bourgeois Culture (A)
What is the Ultimate Goal of Free Markets?
A connection has already often be stated between
- Christianity, particularly Calvinism, and modern market economy (Weber 1905; Stark 2005)
- the rise of the bourgeois culture (McCloskey 2006; Buijs 2013)
To better understand the moral aspirations behind free markets, this research project (project A) establishes a link between a re-interpreted ‘Christian-bourgeois’ culture and the emergence of free markets. Explicit attention will be paid to the work of economist Adam Smith (1723-1790).
We expect this line of inquiry to shed new light on the moral and even spiritual nature behind Smith’s work and behind the emergence of (the idea of) free markets.
Bourgeois Culture and Adam Smith
A1. The first part (A1) aims to reconstruct the concept of ‘bourgeois culture’ as an inherently moral project, which derives its moral sources particularly from certain strands of Christianity, including its cooperative, ‘other-related’ virtues. The research question for this project is:
‘How do new (non-Marxian or post-Marxian) interpretations of Western bourgeois culture as a moral project expand our understanding of the moral aspirations behind the emergence of free markets as a key element of that bourgeois culture?’
A2. We will also examine Adam Smith’s seminal works on morality and economics in the context of the ‘bourgeois’ culture of which he was part. Focus of the project will in particular be on the Protestant/Scottish Presbyterian influence on both the emergence of bourgeois culture and Smith’s work.The research question for the second part (A2) is
‘How can an exploration of Adam Smith’s Scottish-Presbyterian background (both theological and sociological) shed new light on the ideals behind and the moral status of the free market as he envisioned it?’
The project uses a combination of research methodologies:
- critical conceptual analysis of key concepts in main-stream meta-narratives of modern markets (esp. the concept ‘bourgeois’ in relation to ‘self-interest’ and ‘virtues’)
- narrative integration of alternative interpretations of ‘bourgeois’ in relation to free markets
- contextual, comparative text analysis of theological and ‘theo-economic’ texts (Calvin, Hutcheson, Smith)