Michael Sandel: The Moral Limits of Markets

Since I imagine many of you are staying indoors even more than usual on a winter Saturday due to the nasty weather in the Northeast and Midwest, I though a video double-header would be a welcome distraction.

This presentation by Michael Sandel focuses on the issues raised by having social values framed more and more in a market context. At various points in the talk, Sandel asks for audience members to give reasons for their position on various scenarios he poses. I was stuck by how the ones who spoke up almost without exception had difficulty making a crisp, coherent defense for their point of view. The fact that presumably educated people didn’t seem able to articulate, or possibly even worse, think through their position was almost as troubling as some of the questions posed in the talk.

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  1. Klassy

    “I was stuck by how the ones who spoke up almost without exception had difficulty making a crisp, coherent defense for their point of view. The fact that presumably educated people didn’t seem able to articulate, or possibly even worse, think through their position was almost as troubling as some of the questions posed in the talk.”
    OMG Yves, I have not watched this clip, but I had the same reaction when I watched one of his clips a few years back. I think the discussion was about all voluntary armed services. It was clear that the class had not grappled with all the implications of such a force. That they did not do so in light of the fact that the Iraq war was recent history was kind of surprising and very disheartening. The audience was young so I could cut them some slack, but I thought “this is the cream of the crop?”.
    It is one of the reasons that I get so annoyed when I read yet another article on Stanford’s D School’s plans to save the world.
    My guess is they’ll go through the class, agree that markets are not the best way to ensure justice and equality, and then head out into the world to promote market based solutions.

    1. from Mexico

      As Sandel notes, however, Iraq was not a war fought predominately by our “all voluntary armed services,” but by private contractors.

      There is a big difference.

      I just finished spending the holidays with my sister and brother-in-law. They live not too far from Killeen, Texas, and nearby is Ft. Hood is the largest military installation in the world. Most of the people who live on their block are either active military or retired military. However, there is one person who works for one of the military contractors. And what a difference it makes!

      His house is professionally landscaped to the nth degree and he has about $150,000 of rolling stock sitting in his driveway: a brand new BMW suv and another spanking brand new top-of-the-line Ford Explorer.

      What does he do? He installs security cameras in Afghanistan. My brother-in-law, on the other hand, is a retired colonel, an ex hospital adminstrator.

      The difference in the amount of money regular military and military contractrors is paid is stunning.

      1. Banger

        And that is one reason why the federal government has become hopelessly corrupt. War and “threats” are manufactured to enrich not just the makers of arms but, increasingly, national security contractors–the money is very seductive and the smartest people go after it by hook or by crook in Washington.

      2. diptherio

        Oh, that can’t be! We have been repeatedly assured that out-sourcing government work to private contractors will cost the government less money; and yet here you are insinuating that may not be the case at all…explain yourself, Mexico! You can’t possibly be implying that we’ve been lied to, can you?!? [/snark]

      3. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

        Other than the contractors being paid more and having fewer rules,* I see no practical difference between “contractors” and “voluntary military servants. What difference do you see?

        *okay, contractors also have more interesting toys and different uniforms.

    2. Banger

      Yes, young people will go out and promote market-based solutions because they have student loans and there is no other game out there. Market-based solutions exist because the left died–or maybe its just resting after a long squawk.

      1. digi_owl

        At least in Europe i will claim that the left ran out of domestic causes to fight for.

        End result, it has become overrun with managers and academics while still claiming to represent the “working class”.

        This has allowed the populist right to get in on the act by talking to the people as consumers rather than workers. The consumer/worker mental split is in it self a problem for the left btw.

  2. Ben Johannson

    Sandel asks an excellent question: why should net financial wealth, which is produced by government and not by market actors, be the prime determinant of status and freedom in a society? Why should an individual’s or firm’s success at diverting as much of that government flow as possible to themselves be considered the scorecard for success, or intelligence or outright superiority?

    I have yet to hear anything coherent or logical from right-libertarians or conservatives when asked that question. They simply can’t conceive of giving a different answer.

    1. uncle joe

      “” why should net financial wealth, which is produced by government and not by market actors, be the prime determinant of status and freedom in a society? “”
      That being the case, why should the creation of private wealth be any bonafide purpose for continuing to issue public debt in the first place?
      Why not create public wealth instead?

    2. Banger

      That goes to the heart of the philosophy that undergirds right-wing political ideas. Remember, Margaret Thatcher said that there was no such thing as society but, rather, individuals. To me this is akin to saying that the world is flat, literally and the Moon is made of cheese. Yet, she and others who follow a Randian or neo-Randian ideology actually believe this fiction which is why most of these “conservatives” hate social-science outside of a narrow brand of economics.

      If there is no such thing as society then I am free to grab on to any source of income I can whether it is government subsidies or selling my children into prostitution if that is my pleasure. This part of conservative moral philosophy needs to be looked at by those who espouse Randian notions and, at the same time, claim to be Christian which is diametrically opposed to the cult of selfishness.

      1. James Levy

        Thatcher got away with it because in a hierarchical society she set Britain’s inner sociopath free. She told a whole generation of the lower middle class to go out there and grab it over the broken bodies and spirits of those who could not or would not adjust to the new reality that it was every man and woman for him/herself. Of course, they got it in The City and Real Estate, not by becoming inventors or industrialists or medical entrepreneurs. That is why a once-great nation is today ruled by amoral con men and completely dependent on an anything goes, corrupt financial sector that would collapse if any global standards of honest business practices existed and was enforced. As an historian of the UK who got his Ph.D. there and loves the old place, it is disgusting and disheartening in the extreme.

        1. Banger

          I don’t know if this fits but when I briefly lived in Britain in the early seventies I had a girl friend that told me not to be deceived by the adventurous cultural attitudes of her our generation–most would settle for the comfort of a small warm flat or house in the burbs because the English are, essentially, a very conservative culture.

          I find it interesting how appealing Downton Abbey is in the U.S.–this fetishization of the English upper-class of a bygone era when people knew their place that has a hold on the American upper-middle class kind of freaks me out– since we are rapidly moving towards a very rigid class structure in my country including fabulously large estates with a nest of servants to run them.

          1. F. Beard

            Except that Maggie did not realize until too late that the bankers had a cartel, a society of government-enabled thieves? That she had been used by them?

        2. ozajh

          Also never forget that Thatcher was just straight out LUCKY to be elected when she was, right when North Sea Oil was coming seriously on stream. The UK went from being one of the world’s Top 10 oil importers to one of the Top 10 EXPORTERS within a few years, which had massive positive implications for both the UK Current Account and the government budget.

      2. digi_owl

        I keep coming back to the issue of the mental split between consumer and worker, when looking at the broader economic view they are pretty much one and the same.

        This split allows the right, in particular in its populist variant, to talk to the population as consumers (lower taxes, lower prices, better products) while at the same time getting them to ignore that they are the workers producing those very goods that are supposed to get lower prices (in essence, lower wages. Or no work at all by way of outsourcing to other nations).

    3. Susan the other

      Why should society’s own wealth be diverted away from social investment? I really didn’t hear him even approach that subject, Ben. I heard him hem and haw about whether or not markets can make moral choices for the good of all. And he seemed to say, well it is a hard question to answer. Which it is not. He wants us to get all confused in the moral tradeoffs. The moral market. If the Inuits need money, they are no longer living their lifestyle and they should join the rest of Canadian society. And the walruses and all the wildlife should be protected from the absurdities of big game hunter fantasies. Just so they can decorate their ski lodges with the unlovely blobby head of a walrus over their mantel. What a fitting trophy. The answer to the question of whether markets can make good moral choices is No they cannot. If they could we would never be in the mess we are in today. The next question should be, Are governments and politics a form of market? And are they moral? The answer is Yes, and No. So if they are not moral, as evidenced by our atrocious government and politics, then the question is Why not? Sandel’s only question is the opposite, Why even bother with morality. That is much harder to answer because there is no perfect solution. Clearly if everything is pushed and pulled by a profit (aka market) motive both the environment and vulnerable societies will be decimated. At least if history, especially recent history, is any guide. I think the most inarticulate person in that room was Sandel himself.

      1. Chauncey Gardiner

        Perhaps I’m being naive, but I disagree with a view that Sandel is seeking to have us become lost in a forest of moral tradeoffs. Rather, I felt he is simply proposing we expand the public conversation regarding government policies to encompass non-market values; i.e., values that are not for sale. He openly acknowledged this is a messy process, but ultimately less costly to a society than universally adopting market-based solutions. In a democracy, an open process that includes non-market values is more apt to lead to policy legitimacy and acceptance IMO, as well as policies that are more closely aligned with the long-term welfare of the members of a society.

        While there are risks in such an approach, I agree with Sandel that we have ceded far too much of the public conversation to economists, their gatekeepers, and proponents of market-based solutions who in almost all cases benefit economically or politically from those solutions. It is very important to open up the conversation and maintain balance IMO.

      2. Ben Johannson

        I didn’t get that from Sandel’s presentation. He made clear that moving from market tools to a market society has resulted in systemic dysfunction and fraying communal bonds. I think the problem lay in his belief we can put markets as currently understood back in their “place” as tools, without having the same problems recur.

        He doesn’t recognize the whopping contradiction in depending on actors motivated by greed, envy and lust for power to generate social progress; that the current dysfunction is inevitable when we place dysfunctional people in the driver’s seat. And they’re dysfunctional because they are obsessive-compulsive sociopaths who only value wealth.

        Our society is barbaric because barbarians are at the top and we’ve been trained to worship authority. Day in and day out out media tell us cash is king; we’ve been brainwashed.

    4. Schofield

      Well probably the confusion stems from the fact that too a large extent money is “permission” for how we use our time. And who wouldn’t want to use that time to buy a “positional good (house)” in the best school district for our kids because the Austerian politicians work for the Fat Cats who control the “permission” and using Functional Finance to raise all schools to the same standard is a big no-no!

  3. The Dork of Cork

    A fair representation of the young fractured urban yet atomized mind in the audience (were these guys students ?)
    Perhaps this is the first playstation generation where they don’t go outside to play unless its a structured event of organised “team” players.


    For better or worse my Irish Generation was the last one which engaged in our own invented world (although moulded by Hollywood since the 1930s)
    Be it playing soldiers at a almost platoon level between rival streets which eventually morphed into a sort of real but very limited war of structured violence between streets.

    But we understood our neighborhood as ours to defend on a gut level which seems strangely absent today.
    These guys are certainly not the kids of Stephan Kings “The Body” (Stand by Me)

    What is clear is that they are incapable of even slightly out of the box symbolic thought (the difference between ourselfs and the animals) and indeed a basic spatial geographic grounding which is a characteristic of 2 dimensional play in front of a flat screen

  4. PaulArt

    Very good piece but I zoned out around 32:00 when he started talking about raising the level of the discussion beyond managerial techno mumbo-jumbo etc. What these discussions should lead to is a workable model of Capitalism that puts bit and bridle on greed which is the basic driver of the system and which actually ensures the success of the system itself. Starting with a Final Solution for the Banksters is best. Make all banking Government owned and regulate it like a utility. This should solve most of the other problems magically. Most of the dysfunction we see today is a direct consequence of removing the various fetters that were in place like 90% marginal tax rates and high estate taxes not to mention Glass-Steagall. One thing that we REALLY need to think of is to provide an alternative to Capitalism and that is self-sufficiency. We should maybe encourage some form of subsistence farming and a return back to the land to people who are willing to adopt that. As a Corporate slave in good standing I for one would like someone to help me learn how to become self sufficient in food through some kind of farming in an incremental fashion. The more people we wean away from the Capitalist beast the more we can ensure a long lasting balance between greed and contentment. Self-Sufficiency, it’s what Mahatma Gandhi always advocated.

    1. craazyman

      faaaak, that sounds like a lot of hard work. When I think “self-sufficiency” I think food delivery and Youtube. Hoe-ing in the garden isn’t my idea of fun.

      1. diptherio

        They’ve gotta weed for that ;) The right frame of mind makes all the difference in the world…Friends and cold beers also make the labor more enjoyable…and think of all the money you’ll save on that gym membership (which, let’s be honest, you hardly ever use anyway, and then only to cruise for honeys).

        1. The Dork of Cork


          You should listen to yourself – you are so f$£lking middle class.

          Gym ? – whats that ?

          In my mind I can beat any Kenyan so long as I keep eating fish & chips morning and night / 6 days a week.

          The last unfinished product of the Victor……………

      1. susan the other

        I think the consciousness of people, a la Jung, has passed Sandel by. He is doing stand-up subversion at best because everything he avoided saying prevented a lucid discussion. He preempted the solution just like a clever comedian. When all else fails, use stereotypes and capitalist arguments, no matter how specious.

    2. JEHR

      Learning how to grow your own food is not difficult. Start small; when you have a problem, ask a farmer; do some more gardening and so on. The miracle is watching that little seed grow into a big plant!
      Self-sufficiency is labour intensive and hard work to boot.

  5. F. Beard

    What markets?

    We have a government-enabled pack of thieves called the banks that preclude any genuine markets except for themselves and the rich, the so-called creditworthy.

    Speaking of morality, purchasing power creation above all else should be ethical.

    1. Otter

      God rewards those who are virtuous and punishes those who are not.

      The Market rewards those who are virtuous and punishes those who are not.

      MMT will reward those who are virtuous and punish those who are not.

  6. Jim

    Sandel, like most of what is still considered the left outside the Democratic party, is extremely hesitant to enter into any direct discussion of the nature of culture, the makeup of human consciousness or morality.

    This Left as well as the more radical Right, has largely and erroneously assumed that morality in American society was functioning and could therefore be ignored. It is much easier for both camps to dive directly into their favorite economic model and solution( radical libertarianism or MMT) taking for granted in their theoretical frameworks a functioning moral framework–which is really the foundation of their respective economic models.

    Unfortunately for both the modern Left and Right– we are in a profound cultural/moral crisis and not simply and financial/economic/political crisis. The Right needs to understand that a market without morality cannot function and the Left needs to understand that there is no such thing as public purpose without a functioning moral order.

    Its time to analyze the nature of culture as well as the nature of money.

    1. MaroonBulldog

      The United States of America is a utopian constitutional experiment based on the proposition that persons from everywhere in the world, bearing every cultural or religious tradition known to the world, can comprise a “people” and a national legal community based on nothing but natural rights and common law. The First Amendment’s estalishment and free exercise clauses ensure that there will be no established moral order binding on this legal community, other that what is carried on in the common law natural rights tradition. But that tradition is out of fashion among law professors–an elite that has included Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and a few sitting Supreme Court justices–who hold “legal reaslist” views amounting to the Benthamite utilitarian position that “natural rights” is “nonsense on stilts.” So much for a functioning moral order. The utopian experiment is just about over. It is being superseded by a corporatist-state tradition advanced by opportunistic hypocrites, sophists, and cynics.

      1. reason

        “Natural rights” IS nonesense on stilts. All “rights” come from consensus (i.e. they spring from the society in which they are recognised). If you really look at nature (real nature, not “nature”) this should be clear – rights are only meaningfully rights when there is an authority with the power to enforce them.

    2. James Levy

      In order to get around a patriarchal morality of slut-shaming and “father knows best” and “you can always trust your priest and the cops” the Left put in a tremendous effort known as postmodernism to destroy the basis for all moral orders. Much to my chagrin, intellectually they largely succeeded. I firmly believe that some things are right and others wrong, but if you put me up against a first-class postmodern philosopher, he’ll make me look like an enraged idiot within 15 minutes. In short, I can’t beat them. That doesn’t prove that I am wrong, but it indicates that they are more likely right than I am if I can’t articulate a verifiable basis for why behavior x is demonstrably and universally better than behavior y. So reestablishing a moral order, which is necessary for any forward movement, is damned near impossible without establishing a metanarrative and enforcing it via coercion and propaganda, which is what we were all trying to liberate ourselves from in the first place. So you see, I have no idea how to get out of this mess other than waiting for it to all fall to pieces and then hope and work for a better society coming out the other end. But my money is on a neo-feudal nightmare or Mad Max future.

      1. Jim

        James Levy stated “So reestablishing a moral order which is necessary for any forward movement is damned near impossible without establishing a metanarrative and enforcing it via coercion and propaganda, which is what we were all trying to liberate ourselves from in the first place.”

        Maybe we can begin to deal with the important issue you raised by taking a more careful look at the relationship between culture and the individual human mind.

        Are our individual human minds largely a reflection of our general culture?

        Has the culture of the Left tended to support philosophic heros who associate the good with the excitement of desire? If true, why is this the case?

        But does moral authority actually emerge only in contexts in which desires are tempered?

        What happens to all of us if we live in a culture which demands less and permits more?

        Does the Left have the courage to view revolution as advocating return to a new authority centered around the importance of what is not to be done?

        1. Anyone

          Au contraire, does the left (or the right for that matter) have the courage to reject authority altogether, and trust that the individual has the moral sense and authority to figure it it for themselves? Therein only lies any prospective ‘revolution.’ Write it down.

          1. JTFaraday

            I can appreciate the tendency to want to rescue the individual from the collectivity, and when I was an adolescent (or when I’m feeling adolescent), that was (sometimes is) my primary mode of operation.

            But, I think I’m going to have to agree with Guns n Roses here, that what most individuals do is just to rip out select pieces of the collective illusion, and allow that even more limited illusion to govern their lives.

            To thoughtlessly invoke and elevate this fragmented illusion as all too many do, is probably about as stupid as its critics make it out to be.


            Although, I think this is probably my favorite rendition of that song, (and you can try to lay the lyrics over the jam session. That’s always fun):


      2. MaroonBulldog

        My money is on a corporativist future along the lines of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”–if you think we’re not already in that condition–but if you want to call that neo-feudal, I guess I won’t object.

      3. mansoor h. khan

        Jim said:
        “it time to analyze the nature of culture as well as the nature of money.”

        Westerners need to to learn (re-learn) how to think “spiritually” in order to understand their current predicament.

        There exists a spiritual cycle that all civilizations go through and have done so since recorded history. This is discussed in detail by Oswald spengler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_Spengler, http://www.meta-future.org/uploads/7/7/3/2/7732993/oswald_spengler_in_macrohistory_and_macrohistorians_5_2_2013.pdf). And recently discussed by John Michael Greer in his blog (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/).

        The spiritual cycle is something like this at a very high level:,

        1) Starting from Chaos, developing Myth and Religion begin to bind people together because these provide a faith based moral foundation. Very often myth and religion involves belief in and redemption in afterlife (as in Elysian fields in the old roman empire or numerous lives in Hinduism). But strangely enough not all religions (of the past) required belief in afterlife. Although, they did require belief in the unseen spirits and spiritual world and law of karma (or similar idea) in some shape or form.

        2) binding leads to social cooperation and much more social order and rule of law and increase peace. Increased Peace leads to increased use of the rational mind and rise of mathematics and science and engineering and better management methods and ultimately leading to an empire and much greatly increased rate of material production.

        3) This is when people begin to fall in love with this world (as opposed to the spiritual world). Love of science and rationality casts myth and religion aside as “untrue” but sometimes useful.

        4) Selfishness and the love of money and power rises. Hedonism rises. Nihilism rises. Relativism becomes the dominant mode of thinking. Eventually leading to Mad max and Chaos as infighting increases and lies increase in size and effectiveness.

        5) Eventually love of this world (as opposed to the love of the spiritual world, truth and knowledge) leads to total chaos and material production falls greatly and life becomes very difficult without some conception of spiritual world and belief in the spiritual world and eventual cosmic redemption and justice.

        6) Myth and Religion return (sometimes with a vengence!). Spengler calls this the second religiosity. Conception of spiritual world and belief in the spiritual world becomes a “survival advantage” giving its believers spiritual strength to endure the low material consumption life. Community feeling increases among believers leading to a more satisfying life.

        7) And the cycle continues… developing Myth and Religion begin to bind people together again…

        Mansoor H. Khan

  7. Wendy

    I had to wonder about production and preparation, namely whether people were given knowledge of the debate and any examples, in advance, to give them a chance to think through the issues and a position, because these moral questions demand a little thinking through, and one does need “processing” time to do that – more time than it appears from the video that they had.

    But to the point of the people who spoke being unable to articulate their own position – I can’t understand why a person would volunteer to speak when they had to know (don’t they?) that they are unable to articulate their own position. I am baffled at the motivation to say, “Pick me!” when you know you can’t perform, or perhaps you just believe your own imperfect performance will still be better than that of others – it seems like a special kind of arrogance. It can’t just be stupidity, can it?

    1. MaroonBulldog

      One person’s urge to speak up in public may be very different from another’s, but most decisions to raise one’s hand and speak one’s piece originate in the emotions, whether or not the thoughts expressed have been rationally processed. And no, they did not have to know (really, “foresee”) that they could not (as in “would not be able to” ) articulate their position. How many people really know how their next sentence will end before they begin to speak it? Some biographers say that the physicist Paul Dirac was taught to speak that way, and that as a result, his manner of speech was very odd.

  8. MaroonBulldog

    “… presumably educated people didn’t seem able to articulate, or possibly even worse, think through their position …” Possibly these people did not take sufficient time to think through their positions or phrase an eloquent statement while speaking extemporaneously before a large public gathering. We can either comfort ourselves with that thought, or follow this train, which may also be plausible: (1) These people don’t know how to do what they haven’t learned to do; and (2) the educators who educated them could not teach them to do what the educators themselves do not know how to do. (3) They are “Presumably” educated”: The Wizard of Oz could not bestow a brain, but he could confer a diploma. Poor substitute: nothing but hearsay evidence to signify that a named candidate has completed a course of study. (4) Regarding “Articulate”: Al Gore graduated from Harvard, George W. Bush graduated from Yale, and following one of their presidential debates, Professor Victor Davis Hanson observed that neither man was eloquent. Then he averred there was a time when it was almost impossible to graduate from Harvard or Yale without becoming eloquent. (At least, without becoming more eloquent than W?) (5) Articulating and thinking through a position are two parts of one iterative process; the more you think your position t through, the more articulate your statement becomes; and vice versa. (6) A course of study in computer programming may develop a very high degree of ability to think through and express a complex logical structure, but it cannot be expected to make one a raconteur.

  9. Seal

    it [inflation] destroyed incalculable moral and intellectual values. It provoked a serious revolution in social classes, a few people accumulating wealth and forming a class of usurpers of national property, whilst millions of individuals were thrown into poverty. It was a distressing preoccupation and constant torment of innumerable families; it poisoned the German people by spreading among all classes the spirit of speculation and by diverting them from proper and regular work, and it was the cause of incessant political and moral disturbance. It is indeed easy enough to understand why the record of the sad years 1919–23 always weighs like a nightmare on the German people.
    Dr Marc Faber – Reflation

    1. TedWa

      Andrew Jackson in his 1837 farewell address:

      The paper system being founded on public confidence and having of itself no intrinsic value, it is liable to great and sudden fluctuations, thereby rendering property insecure and the wages of labor unsteady and uncertain. The corporations which create the paper money can not be relied upon to keep the circulating medium uniform in amount. In times of prosperity, when confidence is high, they are tempted by the prospect of gain or by the influence of those who hope to profit by it to extend their issues of paper beyond the bounds of discretion and the reasonable demands of business; and when these issues have been pushed on from day to day, until public confidence is at length shaken, then a reaction takes place, and they immediately withdraw the credits they have given, suddenly curtail their issues, and produce an unexpected and ruinous contraction of the circulating medium, which is felt by the whole community. The banks by this means save themselves, and the mischievous consequences of their imprudence or cupidity are visited upon the public. Nor does the evil stop here. These ebbs and flows in the currency and these indiscreet extensions of credit naturally engender a spirit of speculation injurious to the habits and character of the people. We have already seen its effects in the wild spirit of speculation in the public lands and various kinds of stock which within the last year or two seized upon such a multitude of our citizens and threatened to pervade all classes of society and to withdraw their attention from the sober pursuits of honest industry. It is not by encouraging this spirit that we shall best preserve public virtue and promote the true interests of our country; but if your currency continues as exclusively paper as it now is, it will foster this eager desire to amass wealth without labor; it will multiply the number of dependents on bank accommodations and bank favors; the temptation to obtain money at any sacrifice will become stronger and stronger, and inevitably lead to corruption, which will find its way into your public councils and destroy at no distant day the purity of your Government.

      1. LifelongLib

        It’s clear from the context that Jackson was talking about credit creation by private banks, not government paper (or fiat) currency. Then and now economic activity was often limited by lack of money in the hands of (non-wealthy) people who wanted to spend it. Government fiat currency given to the poor/working/middle class would help resolve this.

      2. F. Beard

        As for intrinsic value, money should have none. Using gold and silver for money was to limit the over-issue of it but at the expense of probable under-issue of it.

        Money is a problem in ethics and was solved in principle by Jesus Christ nearly 2000 years ago in Matthew 22:16-22 (“Render to Caesar …”) and by the Old Testament with it’s paradoxical support for profits but it’s opposition to profit-taking including usury.

        But Progressives cannot yet admit that they were wrong and the Bible right.

  10. allcoppedout

    Very few people are much good at verbalising their moral protocols. We tend to be better discursively than as individuals (modern argumentative theory). Even most of what we pass as good argument is riddled with root metaphors that are assumed rather than subject to critical public scrutiny. Thus, turning up to teach 101 plus economics, I find Mankiw textbooks in use rather than something by Keen. But even argument that seems good (say the Greeks on virtue ethics) is ineffective in moral practice, leaving slavery ‘justified’.

    Steve Keen’s ‘smell test science’ is probably better grounded than he knows in deep work like that of Gunther Ludwig (questions on what is being approximated in the beginning of mathematical theorising) in the philosophy of science. The issues here go further than the discounting of private debt and range into the whole mess of aggregates where ‘big data’ may be the right alternative. Yet underlying my own desire for some thoroughgoing economics is the moral mess. Now a journeyman part-timer, where could I earn my corn teaching the real stuff? How did we end up with economics departments teaching rot?

    We are in a spiritual and moral bleakness at least partly described in Mexico’s prose and citation. I doubt standard intellectual solution. John Brown was a better person than Socrates because he could get ‘deluded’ into thinking slavery evil. This is tough ground.

    1. MaroonBulldog

      “How did we end up with economics departments teaching rot?” Students need to learn the critical judgment to discriminate between good ideas and bad ideas, but they will never learn the skill unless they are exposed to plenty of bad ideas. Economics departments perform the foremost service of exposing students to a plenitude of bad ideas.The best and brightest students are those who soon recognize that the world does not really work the way their economics textbooks describe, and so abandon that study to concentrate on something more pleasing or useful.

  11. tiebie66

    Both videos were quite interesting, thanks! But they reminded me of debates about the nature of light – was it a particle; was it a wave? And here we go – is it cruelty or is it compassion? Must it be either one or the other? No, I think both (and please broaden the categories a bit: cruelty, competition, capitalism in one category and compassion, egalitarianism, socialism in the other) because we concede the values of both merit and equity. Both I deem necessary and for the following reasons.

    We live embedded in an environment of which we have but an incomplete understanding. There are changes that cannot be foreseen and thus that cannot be prepared for. For this reason we need to have diversity and equality so as to maximize the probability of having someone survive in a changed environment. Thus we need compassion because that poor person, who is struggling to make ends meet due to a lack of wits or luck, may well have the very genes needed for us to survive some future environment. We need to care for them now. On the other hand, we need to survive current conditions and competition allows us to track and adapt to current conditions better. We need natural selection to best utilize current conditions and we need a panoply of mutations to best guarantee future survival. In an extremely variable environment there would be little point to competition and in an extremely stable environment, little point to diversity. In between, Pareto optimality seems to be a way to reconcile these opposing demands. And, as we never know whether the future will yield one or the other or neither of these extremes, a little bit of competition and a little bit of compassion seem to be the best approach.

    So, it does not make sense to have market forces dictate everything; civic obligation must play its role too. Thus, our feelings will drive us to acknowledge both merit and pity. Our reason will allow us to see the benefits of both competition and compassion. The debate, I think, should be about how best to accommodate them.

    1. F. Beard

      Not one mention of justice in your comment?

      How is it just that the rich are allowed to borrow new purchasing power into existence simply because they are likely able to repay that purchasing power plus interest? How is it just that “private” banks are insured by the government?

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