Ushering Morality

Harish Salve thinks there should be moral code of conduct that politicians live by, so there aren't the kind of scandals that are tumbling out of cupboards dotting the political scene in India! Harish even thinks crass market behavior is responsible for why our politics has taken on a stink!

Really? Moral codes of conduct can turn the political class into champions of morality?

My recommendation? Make it mandatory that lawyers learn what a free market economy is like! The fact is, the only chance that we have for probity lies in the free market economy.

Note Martin Wolf: A sophisticated market economy works better than any other economic arrangement that has ever existed. After two centuries of unprecedented economic advance, and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union and China's transition to capitalism, it is hard to argue anything else.

Yet the victory of the market model is detested almost everywhere. Critics grudgingly concede that capitalism may work better than any plausible alternative, but they insist it remains a wicked system, one that rewards immoral behavior -- greed, ruthlessness, and indifference to the fate of others -- and produces immoral outcomes, namely widening inequality.

This view is most stridently expressed by the anti-globalization left. But a similar, if more subtle, critique has emerged among economists themselves, some of whom even decry capitalism as inherently inhumane and in need of a "human face." It is easy to agree that a market economy requires a supporting system of laws and regulations. It is also easy to accept the desirability of government-sponsored programs of social welfare, provided these are kept within manageable bounds. But the claim that the market economy is immoral is nonsense.

The market economy rests on and encourages valuable moral qualities; provides unprecedented opportunities for people to engage in altruistic activities; underpins individual freedom and democracy; and has created societies that are, in all significant respects, less unequal than the traditional hierarchies that preceded them. In short, capitalism is the most inherently just economic system that humankind has ever devised.

It is true that market economies neither create, nor reward, saints. But consider the virtuous behavior that capitalism fosters: trustworthiness, reliability, individual initiative, civility, self-reliance, and self-restraint. These qualities are, critics correctly note, placed in the service of self-interest. Since people are, with few exceptions, self-interested, that should be neither surprising nor shocking.
Yet people are also not completely self-interested. Prosperous market economies generate a vast number of attractive opportunities for those who are not motivated by wealth alone. People can seek employment with non-governmental organizations or charities. They can work in the public sector, as doctors, teachers, or police officers. They can teach the iniquities of capitalism in schools and universities. Those who make a great deal of money can use it for any purpose they wish. They can give it away, for example. Quite a few have.
In the advanced market economies, people care deeply about eliminating pain and injustice and ensuring the welfare of fellow humans and, more recently, animals. This concern exists because a rich, liberal society places enormous emphasis on the health and well-being of the individual. Life is no longer nasty, brutish, and short; rather, it is gentle, kind, and long, and more precious than before.
The savage punishments and casual indignities of two centuries ago are no longer acceptable to civilized people. Nor are slavery and serfdom, both of which were rendered obsolete and immoral under the capitalist system. Militarists, extreme nationalists, communists, and fascists -- the anti-liberals -- brought these horrors back, if only temporarily. And it is no accident that the creeds that brought them back were fiercely anti-individualistic and anti-market.


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