Does the free market encourage moral behavior? Virgil Henry Storr, Research Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at George Mason University, recently wrote a report called “The Impartial Spectator and The Moral Teachings of Markets.” He addresses critics’ concerns that the free market brings out and nurtures human vices.
Countless commentators have stated that “engaging in market activity can be corrupting.” Storr highlights two notable quotes. Aristotle “believed that there was something unnatural about the kind of wealth getting that occurred in the market.” Karl Marx “believed that the market could transform man into a ‘spiritual and physical monster.’”
Storr, who is also Director of Graduate Student Programs in the Mercatus Center, addresses these famous claims with quotes from those who have “made the point that markets are moral training grounds where virtues are rewarded and cultivated.” Michael Novak stated that engaging in trade “teaches care, discipline, frugality, clear accounting, providential forethought … fidelity to contracts, honesty in fair dealings, and concern for one’s moral reputation.” Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says:
Capitalism has not corrupted the spirit. On the contrary, had capitalism not enriched the world by a cent nonetheless its bourgeois, antifuedal virtues would have made us better people than in the world we have lost. As a system it has been good for us.”
May 1st was Law Day across America, and here in Grand Rapids, the Acton Institute joined the Catholic Lawyers Association of West Michigan to sponsor a Law Day Celebration at the St. Cecilia Music Center. The chosen theme for Law Day this year was “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All,” and responsibility for delivering a keynote address on that theme fell to Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico, who reflected on the role of faith in the legal profession in a time of great turmoil in society, in part because of the way that the law is currently being used to effect social change.
The event also featured the presentation of the Catholic Lawyers Association of West Michigan’s Thomas Moore Award to Michigan Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy.
You can listen to that presentation, as well as Rev. Sirico’s address, using the audio player below.
Salman Rushdie, the British Indian novelist, has a piece in The New York Times entitled “Wither Moral Courage?” He is saddened that we have “no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore” and that those who do stand up to the “abuses of power and dogma” are quickly imprisoned or vilified.
While it’s true that it is increasingly difficult to speak freely or practice one’s religious faith without fear of retribution, Rushdie confuses moral courage with shock. He cites the members of the Russian Pussy Riot as courageous, yet they refused to use their real names and disguised themselves in their protests against the Russian Orthodox Church. He also touts the “highly-effective” Occupy Wall Street movement here in the US as those with the courage to stand up against the establishment.
The problem here is that Rushdie isn’t really talking about moral courage. He’s talking about shock value. Courage, classically understood, is a virtue; Cicero (106-43 BC) said, “Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind in harmony with reason and the order of nature.” While we can find many acts of courage around us every day (the fireman who rushes into a burning building to save a child, the soldier who holds his ground under enemy fire), moral courage is more than just this. (more…)
Last April 16, Acton’s Rome office co-sponsored a seminar in London on “The Morality of Work, Commerce and Finance: Lessons from Catholic Social Teaching” with St. Mary Moorfields, the only Roman Catholic parish in the Square Mile and located in the very heart of London’s investment banking district.
With several astute financiers, bankers, and business executives in attendance, the seminar’s expert speakers helped them articulate and ponder the moral and vocational aspects of the financial world in which they work. The seminar’s speakers also addressed the political and legal frameworks that regulate their sectors in light of traditional free market economic philosophy and the particular Catholic social teachings that both challenge and sustain modern practices in the sector.
Msgr. Martin Schlag, a moral theology professor at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, led off discussion with his talk “Personal Virtues in the Workplace”. Schlag spoke about the interplay of the classical virtues before raising a discussion on the uniquely Christian “theological” or supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
In the most recent issue of Religion & Liberty, the “In the Liberal Tradition” section profiles Metropolitan St. Philip II of Moscow for his defense of faith and freedom in the face of the tyranny of Tsar Ivan IV, known to history as “Ivan the Terrible.” In contrast to Ivan, who used his power to oppress his own people, Philip taught, “He alone can in truth call himself sovereign who is master of himself, who is not subject to his passions and conquers by charity.” Among the many spiritual disciplines of the Orthodox Christian spiritual tradition geared towards freeing a person from being “subject to his passions,” we can see Philip’s love of labor in his many projects at the Solovki monastery in the years before he was made Metropolitan of Moscow. (more…)
In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Passion for Government Leads to Neglect of Our Neighbor,” I examine how the disconnect between desires and deeds with reference to helping the needy among us perpetuates unbalanced budgets and spending on debt to the detriment of future generations. I highlight how St. John the Baptist came to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children” (Luke 1:17) by exhorting people to look to their neighbors and the small but practical ways they can serve them in love:
During his ministry, John’s message to everyday people, according to Luke, was remarkably simple: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” To the tax collector, he warns not to take more than is due, and to the soldier his counsel is “be content with your wages” (cf. Luke 3:10-14). This was “the way of the Lord”?
I conclude by recommending the same for us today. The problem is not that people do not care, it is that we have forgotten with whom responsibility for the work of caring for the needy among us lies first of all. (more…)