Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Morality of the Market


What sort of evidence is sufficient to prove a position? I believe enough time has transpired since Moltmann’s The Crucified God to show that time has proved him wrong in certain areas. But what would this proof be? I say free-market economies are superior to any other, but someone else might disagree. What sort of evidence would be valid to prove these matters one way or the other.

Of course anecdotal evidence is tempting. You know someone who has a strong belief, who is poor or is rich, and you are influenced, but anecdotal evidence is of the weakest sort. Nevertheless I’ll engage in a bit of it. A couple in our church were arguably in the lower strata of economic possibility. He worked as a swamper, loading trucks and she had babies instead of working. He was laid off and our church had to help him pay his bills. Then he got another job, slightly better than the one he lost – as a sort of head swamper, and now he is buying a house, all in the space of about two years.

I know some people who were laid off when a truck company went out of business, but they all have better jobs now.

I could go on and on. However, I trust more in political and economic scientists who are studying these matters than anecdotal evidence. I subscribe to several magazines and quarterlies: Foreign Affairs, National Interest, Foreign Policy, the weekly editions of The Washington Post and The Washington Times, and The Weekly Standard. I picked up a stack of the most recent copies of Foreign Policy and in the Sept/Oct 2003 edition discovered the article, “The Morality of the Market,“ by Martin Wolf, associated editor and chief economics commentator for the Financial Times. His book about the global economy, is presumably Why Globalization Works ( ). The lead-in statement about the article reads, “The market economy has triumphed virtually everywhere – and has come to be reviled virtually everywhere. Critics, including more than a few economists, charge that capitalism creates gross inequality, inflicts environmental destruction, and undermines democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The market economy is the most just and humane economic system yet conceived.”

I’ve read many articles like this one. These are the demonstrable facts, in my opinion. And they’ve been known for at least fourteen years. These facts were an assumption in Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, 1994. He assumed that the Free Market of Liberal-Democracies was as Martin Wolf describes them to be. Do the various articles and books I could produce (that would agree with Martin Wolf) comprise evidence? Although they are better than anecdotal evidence they do not comprise “perfect evidence.” Still, I find that they inform us as to what perfect evidence would look like, i.e., the actual comparison of Free Market economies with other economies in all the realms that Wolf is interested in – which include, granted that the Free Market economy is superior in the economic sense, the other aspects he mentions. That is, does some other economy do better in terms of human rights for example? What I have read convinces me that there is nothing to compare with the free-market economy of Liberal-Democracy in any of the realms Wolf mentions, but as Wolf’s lead-in tells us, there are plenty of people with the contrary opinion.

Lawrence Helm

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