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6 Quotes: John C. Bogle on capitalism, values, and virtue

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John C. Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group of Investment Companies, died yesterday at the age of 89.

Bogle popularized the practice of indexing, the practice of structuring an investment portfolio to mirror the performance of a market yardstick, like the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index. Bogle was a frugal man who championed virtues such as trust and thrift. He was also a philanthropist who gave half his salary to charity. “My only regret about money,” he once said, “is that I don’t have more to give away.”

In honor of his passing, here are six quotes by Bogle on capitalism, values, and virtue:

On why free enterprise matters: “Let’s start with why you should—indeed must—care about our system of free-market capitalism. I argue that it is the job of every concerned citizen to ‘uphold the values that once made our corporate and financial enterprises so successful, fairly providing the rewards of investing to those who put up the capital and assume the risks involved. To win the battle to restore the soul of capitalism, it is these values that must prevail.’ Why? Because, as I explain, ‘we require a powerful and equitable system of capital formation if our nation is to overcome the infinite, often seemingly intractable, challenges of our risk-fraught modern world. Our economic might, political freedom, military strength, social welfare, and even free religious values depend upon it.’”

On misplaced priorities: “In medieval times, when a traveler approached the city, his eye was captured by the cathedral. Today, his eye is taken by the towers of commerce. It’s business, business, business, a bottom-line society in which we measure the wrong bottom line, form over substance, prestige over virtue, money over achievement, charisma over character, the ephemeral over the enduring, even Mammon over God.”

On the material and the spiritual: “Our so-called ‘bottom line society’ has not proved hospitable to our religious institutions. Few of those early universities that were formed with a strong sectarian heritage remain closely linked to churches. As our older generations go to their rewards and our younger generations seem to revel more in the seen than the unseen, more in the material things of life than in the spiritual, and, yes, more in the ephemeral than the eternal, church membership is falling. Surely it is no coincidence that our ethical standards too are ebbing.”

On ethical standards: “It is not so much that too many of our principals, our business leaders, seen less ethical, it is that our principles seem less ethical, somehow diluted. There seem to be far fewer absolute standards in the conduct of our affairs—the things that one just doesn’t do. Rather, we rely too heavily on relative standards—“Everyone else is doing it, so I can do it, too”—a concept that would have appalled the Reverends Makemie, Edwards, and Witherspoon, as well as our founding fathers. Such a formula for the perpetuation of selfish behavior is light-years away from the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. . .”

On the virtue of trust: “[Quoting Adam Smith: “(but) by directing his industry in such a manner as to its produce may be of the greatest value, he is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”] This is the classic formulation of how a virtuous society is produced by the invisible hand of self-interest. But it has somehow gone awry. Trusting and being trusted were essential elements explaining why the invisible hand worked for society, but today we seem to rely far less on these essentials. Despite the vital role of self-interest in providing the plenty of modern society, we need something more. We need to restore trust and we need to raise our society’s expectations of the proper conduct of our citizens, and especially of our leaders.”

On the primacy of spiritual values: “[T]hose fundamental values of yore—spiritual rather than temporal, religious rather than sectarian—must remain our highest aspiration. If we understand our history, and learn from our great religious and political leaders and from history’s lessons of virtue and commitment, that goal need not be utopian. Perhaps now is the time for another ‘Great Awakening.’ It is hardly a moment too soon.”

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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