By Virgil Henry Storr and Ginny Seung Choi
The most damning criticism of markets is that they are morally corrupting. As we increasingly engage in market activity, the more likely we are to become selfish, corrupt, rapacious and debased. Even Adam Smith, who famously celebrated markets, believed that there were moral costs associated with life in market societies. Do Markets Corrupt Our Morals? explores whether or not engaging in market activities is morally corrupting.
Storr and Choi demonstrate that people in market societies are wealthier, healthier, happier and better connected than those in societies where markets are more restricted. More provocatively, they explain that successful markets require and produce virtuous participants. Markets serve as moral spaces that both rely on and reward their participants for being virtuous. Rather than harming individuals morally, the market is an arena where individuals are encouraged to be their best moral selves.
Do Markets Corrupt Our Morals? invites us to reassess the claim that markets corrupt our morals.
About Virgil Storr and Ginny Choi
Virgil Henry Storr is the Vice President of Academic and Student Programs at the Mercatus Center, an Associate Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics, George Mason University and the Don C. Lavoie Senior Fellow in the F.A. Hayek Program in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Mercatus Center, George Mason University. He holds a Ph. D. in Economics from George Mason University (Fairfax, Va.) and did his undergraduate work at Beloit College (Beloit, Wis.).
Ginny Seung Choi is Associate Director of Academic & Student Programs; a Senior Fellow in the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics; and a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Saint Vincent College.
Table of Contents of Do Markets Corrupt Our Morals?
Chapter abstracts have been copied from SpringerLink.
- Can Markets Be Moral? - Most scholars accept that people are materially better off in market societies, and that people are materially worse off in nonmarket societies. However, there is a debate among the critics, defenders, and students of commercial life concerning whether or not the wealth that societies gain by embracing markets comes at a high moral cost. This chapter argues that it is important to answer the question of whether or not engaging in market activities is morally corrupting. As such, we ask and answer the question: Do markets corrupt our morals? Are markets moral spaces that depend on and cultivate our morality or are markets immoral spaces where vice thrives and is encouraged? Is virtue endogenous to markets?
- Markets as Monsters - This chapter reviews and critically engages a variety of moral criticisms of the market. We argue that a common thread running through all of these arguments is the notion that markets are morally corrupting. This common concern – what we call the central moral criticism – is often discussed in the language of moral philosophy, and the most damning critiques along these lines are deontological claims that do not allow for the possibility that market exchange can be moral. But, we argue, this criticism of markets is at root an empirical, rather than a philosophical, claim. As such, we can evaluate whether or not it is true that markets are likely to be morally corrupting using our theoretical understanding of how markets can and should work, and on the basis of evidence regarding how markets do work.
- Markets as Unintentionally Moral Wealth Creators - Traditional moral defenses of the market do not really address the central moral criticism leveled against markets by their critics. Rather than (theoretically or empirically) evaluating the claim that markets are morally corrupting, the traditional defenses either avoid or (implicitly or explicitly) endorse the view that markets are potentially corrupting. In this chapter, we review and discuss the way that the market is traditionally defended on moral grounds. Specifically, we argue that both claims that the market neither promotes nor suppresses morality and that the market transforms private vice into public virtue are inadequate responses to the central moral criticism of markets.
- People Can Improve Their Lives Through Markets - This chapter demonstrates that the market is an arena where individuals can work to improve their lives. People who live in market societies are wealthier, healthier, happier, and better connected than people who live in nonmarket societies. Additionally, these benefits are not only enjoyed by the privileged few in these communities. The least advantaged in market societies are better off than the least advantaged in nonmarket societies and may be better off than the most well-off in some nonmarket societies. This material fact, we argue, is of moral significance.
- Markets Are Moral Spaces - This chapter argues that markets function better when participants are virtuous, although markets could function without especially virtuous actors. Additionally, we show that market participants tend to be virtuous. Deirdre McCloskey has forcefully and convincingly made the same point that markets are compatible with and depend on virtuous behavior. The bourgeois virtues are both bourgeois (i.e. born of markets) and virtuous (i.e. exhibiting the very virtues we have long admired). Beyond exhibiting the seven virtues that McCloskey highlighted (love, faith, hope, courage, temperance, prudence, and justice), we show that people in market societies tend to be more altruistic, are less likely to be materialistic and corrupt, and are more likely to be cosmopolitan as well as trusting and trustworthy.
- Markets Are Moral Training Grounds - This chapter argues that markets actually have the ability to make us more virtuous. We show how market participants respond to trustworthy and untrustworthy trading partners and highlight the mechanisms through which moral development occurs in markets. Rather than being morally corrupting, markets are spaces of moral development because they offer us opportunities to discover others who have the moral qualities that we admire as well as because virtuous behavior is rewarded and immoral behavior is punished in markets.
- What If Markets Are Really Moral? - This chapter teases out the implications of our conclusion that markets are moral spaces that depend on and encourage morality. It is important to note that saying that markets are not morally corrupting is not to say that markets should exist in everything. It is possible to accept that we are correct that markets are moral and still maintain that certain markets in certain goods and services are noxious and should be limited. Our arguments do imply, however, that, rather than there being moral costs associated with engaging in market activity, there are moral costs that will result from curtailing market activity.