The Free-Market Case Needs More Than Just Morality

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George Leef and Mike Munger are right (of course) that we need to make the moral case for capitalism. Yet I would argue that making such a case is insufficient to deter skepticism about America’s economic system. We also need to make the case at the level of values.

There are different ways to approach this. Cultural theory, for instance, suggests we need to show that capitalism stands as a bulwark against the different risks people see in life. Some people see risks to freedom, others to fairness, and others to community and order (my 2020 book The Socialist Temptation points out how socialists do a great job on this in marketing socialism) — my mentor Fred Smith took this approach when promoting the morality and virtues of capitalism.

Another way to approach values is to look at the foundations of moral thinking, as Jonathan Haidt did in his groundbreaking work The Righteous Mind. In this and his subsequent work, Haidt has identified correlative pairs of values that underpin our moral thinking. These values are care/harm (Does capitalism care about people? Does it stop people being harmed?), loyalty/betrayal (Does capitalism promote fraternity? Does capitalism reward disloyalty to country and community?), authority/subversion (Does capitalism recognize just authority? Does capitalism undermine just authority?), sanctity/degradation (Does capitalism give due weight to the sacred? Does it promote filth and/or pollution of any sort?), and finally fairness/cheating. A final pair may or may not have true validity – freedom/oppression.

People react differently to these values, so a left-liberal will be concerned primarily with care/harm and will accuse capitalism of not caring about the results of its market processes. A social conservative will be concerned about capitalism undermining traditional morality by providing markets for pornography, for instance.

Fairness is a special case, as progressives and conservatives regard it differently. Progressives view fairness as “equity” or equality of outcome. Conservatives regard fairness as a question of proportionality or equality of opportunity — my colleague Joshua Bandoch wrote about what this means in this context recently in the Washington Times.

Read the full article at National Review.