Thursday, March 26, 2009

Freedom, Greed and Self Interest

Along with the pols out in force to decry the "greed" of Wall Street (nevermind their central role in the crisis), all sorts of people are coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on the resentment people have over the financial crisis making claims that capitalism has to be made "moral". Of course most of these people never understood capitalism (or economics for that matter) to begin with.

The blog at ASI differentiates between "greed" and "self interest": "even without their kind intervention, capitalism is very much more moral than most of the snotrags in Parliament, who seem to spend most of the time working out how to fiddle their expenses [...] People say that capitalism is based on greed, which must be restrained. No it isn't. It's built on self-interest – which is perfectly natural to us all, and beneficial to our community. Markets are about free people, voluntarily exchanging cash for goods or services."

A rejoinder by William Easterly makes the "moral" case for personal freedoms: "Individual liberty is a precise concept and a powerful ideal. It has an enormous moral appeal – “all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson wrote these words even though there was only liberty for propertied white males at the time in the US, but these words would serve as a beacon through American history, which Lincoln would invoke to motivate the Emancipation Proclamation, and which Martin Luther King would invoke to end Jim Crow and get de-facto voting rights for blacks."

The markets reflect who we are as individuals and as a society. So when we're told that capitalism needs to be more "moral", just remember it's none-too-subtle code that someone wants to impose their morality on us.

No comments: