By Daniel Finn

The Moral Ecology of Markets
Part of the books by Daniel Finn series:
Editions:Paperback: $ 37.00
ISBN: 9780521677998
Pages: 131
ISBN: 9780511159428
Hardcover: $ 104.00
ISBN: 9780521860826
  • Engages the debates about capitalism and markets across the disciplines of economics, political science, and political philosophy
  • Provides a novel framework for placing conflicting points of view in dialogue with each other
  • Well-written and non-technical, this book is useful to scholars and accessible to students

Disagreements about the morality of markets, and about self-interested behavior within markets, run deep. They arise from perspectives within economics and political philosophy that appear to have nothing in common. In The Moral Ecology of Markets, Daniel Finn provides a framework for understanding these conflicting points of view. Recounting the arguments for and against markets and self-interest, he argues that every economy must address four fundamental problems:

  • allocation
  • distribution
  • scale
  • the quality of relations.

In addition, every perspective on the morality of markets addresses explicitly or implicitly the economic, political, and cultural contexts of markets, or what Finn terms 'the moral ecology of markets'. His book enables a dialogue among the various participants in the debate over justice in markets. In this process, Finn engages with major figures in political philosophy, including John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and Michael Walzer, as well as in economics, notably Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and James Buchannan.

Reviews:John E. Stapleford on Journal of Markets and Morality wrote:

"Finn begins his essay by taking to task three Nobel laureates (Friedman, Buchanan, and Hayek) for presenting amoral defenses of voluntary self-interest and markets. This seems a little high-handed. The body of work of each of these brilliant economists is enormous, yet incompletely surveyed by Finn. [...] My most notable complaint about Finn’s presentation is with regard to the overuse of straw men. For example, Bernard Mandeville is not representative of market economists and certainly should not be lumped with Hayek and the other Nobel laureates. The arrival of Wal-Mart in Argentina does not render small businesses powerless; rather it forces them to be more competitive and efficient (while decreasing prices for lower income consumers—Wal-Mart's target market in Latin America). Income inequality is only a bad thing when there is not mobility in the income distribution over time. Finally, market proponents are way beyond pointing to the failures of communism as evidence and currently tout the double-digit unemployment and lack of economic growth in the socialist states of Europe. [...] I agree with Finn that pursuit of self-interest in markets must be constrained by the moral frameworks established by government, institutions, individuals, and groups. Adam Smith agreed as well. [...] In summary, Finn’s observation is neither original nor new. The issue for the reader to decide is whether Finn’s four problems and moral ecology provide frameworks that facilitate the debate over justice in markets and ultimately its progress."

Rebecca M. Blank on International Journal of Social Economics wrote:

"This is a clearly written and highly interesting book. Finn demonstrates his strengths as a well‐trained economist and a well‐trained philosopher. The combination of these skills is sorely lacking among most practitioners of economics, and Finn is able to bring economic and moral arguments together in a cogent and useful way. [...] I particularly like the sense of balance in the book. Finn avoids falling into the trap of so many commentators who write about justice and markets. He neither rails against market outcomes nor broadly blesses them; instead he develops a conceptual framework by which market outcomes may be evaluated. At several places, he does a very nice job of describing ways in which quite similar market behavior may be “just” in one context but “unjust” in another. The book is quite short, and in many places I wished that Finn had written a slightly longer book. [...] Probably the biggest missing piece in the book was its limited discussion of the role of government. [...] That said, this is a book I highly recommend to any readers interested in the topic of markets and morality."

William Kline on The Journal of Value Inquiry wrote:

"Daniel Finn's goal in The Moral Ecology of Market is to develop a framework for intelligent discussions of political and economic matters. [...] Fundamentally different conceptions of what markets are lead to substantive differences on economic policy. Finn's framework of ecology does not so much overcome such differences as prove them. While appearing neutral, Finn's conception of markets is no more neutral than the framework he develops. This would not be a problem except for the fact that the purpose of the framework is to provide a focus for reasonable debate. [...] The Moral Ecology of Markets
is better read as a critique of libertarianism and a classic apology for hearing the concerns of social justice than as providing a framework for agreement."

Jan Narveson on Canadian Journal of Political Science wrote:

"Serious defenders of markets can complain that much of the structure identified here is misleadingly characterized. [...] The market idea can do a lot more than he suggests. However, he does the literature a service by producing this classification of aspects to discuss."

3-Minute Intro Video to the Book

About Daniel Finn

Daniel FinDaniel Finn (Saint John's University, Minnesota) is both an economist and theologian and has written extensively on the relation of ethics and economics. The author of Just Trading: On the Economics and Ethics of International Trade and Toward a Christian Economic Ethic: Stewardship and Social Power, he received the Thomas F. Divine Award from the Association for Social Ethics for lifetime achievement in contributions to social economics and the social economy.

Table of Contents

Links are to the abstract of each chapter

  1. Thinking ethically about economic life

Part I. Self-interest, Morality, and the Problems of Economic Life

  1. De-moralized economic discourse about markets
  2. The moral defense of self-interest and markets
  3. The moral critique of self-interest and markets
  4. The four problems of economic life

Part II. The Moral Ecology of Markets

  1. The market as an arena of freedom
  2. The moral ecology of markets
  3. Implications

Additional Material

Daniel Finn (2003). The moral ecology of markets: on the failure of the amoral defense of markets, In: Review of Social Economy, 61:2, 135-162. DOI: 10.1080/0034676032000098192

Many economists have defended capitalism; most have tried to do so within the self-imposed methodological constraint that economists should employ only empirical arguments, not normative ones. This essay examines three classic amoral defenses of capitalism—by Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and Friedrich Hayek—and argues that each fails on its own terms, since each implicitly incorporates moral presumptions essential to the author’s  argument. Constructively, the essay proposes that no one can adequately endorse (or critique) markets without making a moral evaluation of their context—their “moral ecology.” Four issues are identified as necessarily addressed in every adequate evaluation of markets. The essay does not endorse any one position on these elements, but argues instead that seemingly incommensurable standpoints on markets—ranging from Marxist to libertarian—actually represent positions on the these four basic issues.