Political scientist and criminologist James Q. Wilson, co-author of the influential “Broken Windows” article in The Atlantic Monthly in 1982, which led to shift toward community policing, died today at the age of 80.
In 1999, Wilson spoke to Acton’s Religion & Liberty about how a free society requires a moral sense and social capital:
R&L: Unlike defenders of capitalism such as Friedrich von Hayek and Philip Johnson, who view capitalism as a morally neutral system, you see a clear relationship between morality and the free market. To your way of thinking, what is the connection between capitalism and morality?
Wilson: To me, capitalism is neither immoral nor amoral but, on balance, a moralizing force. True competition gives to businesspeople an incentive to acquire a good reputation, and to clerks an incentive to treat customers fairly. These incentives, I think, produce more than mere pretense; they actually change behavior. Imagine working at McDonald’s where you must say “Yes, ma’am” or “Yes, sir” to every customer. People working for minimum wage will do this countless times a day and, in time, I suspect, will do it even when off the job. Or imagine competing for customers with Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s. Each firm must work hard to please customers by serving fresh food with no harmful consequences. Successful retail competitors act as if they are–and, I imagine, in fact, really are–more attractive people than unsuccessful ones, but some of the latter learn to be the former.