Questioning the Morality of Capitalism: Moral, Immoral, or Amoral?
"To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except by the voluntary choice of the man who willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except to those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss -- the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery -- that you must offer them values, not wounds -- that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchanges of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy not the shoddiest they offer, but the best your money can find. And when live by trade -- with reason, not force, as their final arbiter -- it is the best product that wins, the best performance, then man of best judgment and highest ability -- and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is that what you consider evil?" (Rand, 1957)
Capitalism is an economic system that is responsible for a great deal of the industrialization in the 21st century world. With the downfall of feudalism came the epic rise of capitalism over the western world. Primary elements of capitalism include wage labor, competitive markets, the ownership and privatization of means of production, accumulating capital, and producing goods or services as means for income and/or profit. Capitalism may be referred to by several other names, some of which include a market economy, a self-regulating market, or a free market. These and other terms may be synonymous for capitalism. Over the centuries, there has been great protest and great support for capitalism and its effects. This paper will provide a comprehensive understanding of capitalism and question the morality of capitalism -- is capitalism amoral, immoral, moral, or something else altogether? The paper will endeavor to answer this question and justify a moral critique of capitalism.
"Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants; money will not give him a code of values, if he's evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he's evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admission for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgment, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?" (Rand, 1957)
What is morality and what is its place in business practice? The focus of morality is upon people's actions, intentions, and decisions. Morality differentiation what, among those, are good and which are bad. Moral codes provide cultures and societies contexts within which to interpret and predictive characteristics and behaviors. Moral codes are systemic; they are systems of structured beliefs in service to instruct those who abide by the code the constitution for good life. Morality is related to values, which vary a great deal by culture and throughout human history. Lal describes how an economist would perceive the function of morality in business practices:
"From an economist's perspective morality is best looked upon as part of the institutional infrastructure of a society. This institutional infrastructure, broadly defined, consists of informal constraints like cultural norms (which encompass morality) and the more formal ones which are embodied in particular and more purposeful organizational structures." (Lal, 2002)
Lal is aware of the direct link between what the norms and values are in a culture and the culture's sense of morality. Therefore, morality is somewhat flexible, bending to a new shape that is appropriate for the times. Lal wonders if morality matters when it comes to economy: "Given the multiplicity of ethical traditions, does it matter for the economy if there is no common agreement about the content of morality, as long as each society has its own morality to constrain immoral behaviour?" (Lal, 2002) Amorality is indifferent to morality; it is neither moral, nor immoral. Amorality exists without awareness of moral standards or issues of right and wrong. What is immoral goes against what is accepted as moral. Thus, morality, like time, is relative. What is moral in one place is immoral in another. What is immoral in one time period becomes moral fifty years later. If the human sense of morality shifts, then it is possible capitalism at some point, in some part of the world was moral, amoral, and immoral. Lal questions humanity and morality as he asks the reader
"In the ensuing plethora of moral beliefs -- particularly in a cross-cultural context -- it is a brave soul who would be able to find any basis for a universal ethic. But if Reason or a universally acceptable God cannot provide us with a common basis for morality, and if -- as we have seen -- morality is needed to reduce the 'policing' type of transactions costs for economic efficiency, on what basis are we to found this morality?" (Lal, 2002)
If morality is a sort of shape-shifter, cannot we argue the morality for any economic system? Where can we seek answer? We can turn to economic systems such as capitalism to find a sense of morality. Younkins articulates how capitalism and morality are situated in a succinct description as follows:
"An economic system such as capitalism is a system of relationships and cannot be moral or immoral in the sense that an individual can be -- only persons are genuine moral agents. However, an economic system can be moral in its effects if it fosters the possibility of moral behavior among individuals who act within it. Since the formation of such a system is a human act, it follows that there is a moral imperative to create the kind of political and economic system that permits the greatest possibility for self-determination and moral agency." (Younkins, 2001)
Capitalism is moral because it has moral affects. Furthermore, capitalism is moral because it is a human construction; the morality of the author permeates throughout the construction. Capitalism is a system that fosters, requires, and perpetuates moral attitudes and behaviors.
Capitalism stimulates a sense of competition and stimulates a state of peace. Collaborative social interaction is a by-product of capitalism. Theorist and scholars across many schools and areas of thought argue that the effects of capitalism are evident I many aspects of the cultures that are capitalist. Capitalism is an economic system that organizes types of relationships and facilitates specific types of experiences for the participants. Therefore, it is apparent that capitalism affects the behaviors and emotions of participants. Fourcade and Healy write:
"Markets, then, not only produce economic harmony (the satisfaction of individuals' desires and needs), they also create social harmony. McCloskey (2006) is today perhaps the most prominent defender of the view that markets encourage not only public but also personal virtue. Like other virtue ethicists, she seeks to identify both the virtues that comprise good moral character and the individual habits and social institutions that cultivate such virtues in people. In broad outline, we may contrast this approach with the Kantian and consequentialist traditions, which offer competing theories for judging the morality of actions (whether through the application of deontological principles of moral duty or a utilitarian calculation of the good and bad consequences of one's choices). For McCloskey, markets nurture a long list of "bourgeois virtues," including integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, enterprise, respect, modesty, and responsibility. Commerce teaches ethics mainly through its communicative dimension, that is, by promoting conversation among equals and exchange between strangers." (Fourcade & Healy, 2007)
The capitalist market forces people to interact with others that they may never normally encounter. In order for a successful capitalist atmosphere, the participants in the transactions must get along and cooperate. In this way, readers may perceive capitalism a moral. Cooperation and trust is necessary for a society to run. Harmony brings ease into the world. When people conduct business harmoniously and cooperatively, all parties receive what they…