Are Markets Moral?

Author:Choi, Ginny Seung

* Are Markets Moral?

Edited by Arthur M. Melzer and Steven J. Kautz

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.

Pp. vi, 250. $49.95 hardcover.

Today, very few doubt the ability of capitalism and the market to bring about economic prosperity. But as our societies became more prosperous, people noticed what they identified as instances of unbridled greed on Wall Street, the collapse of the family and community, and a breakdown of traditional social norms and values. Arthur M. Melzer and Steven J. Kautz's timely and essential collection Are Markets Moral? investigates the morality of markets. It centers around two fundamental questions about markets and morality: Are the fundamental principles of capitalism in conflict with morality? Or does capitalism demand morality? This volume is driven by the desire to examine whether our chosen economic system makes us better or worse human beings as our societies grow more prosperous and have access to more things. If there existed an alternative economic system that could not only make us richer but also better human beings (or if we could tweak our existing system to better suit our moral needs), why would we not want that system instead? Are Markets Moral? allows us the space to assess whether we are and should feel comfortable with capitalism.

Concerns about the moral underpinnings of markets are long standing. Perhaps the harshest critic of the free market and capitalism, Karl Marx, contended that money exchange and the division of labor (arguably the distinguishing attributes of markets and capitalism) necessarily lead to exploitation of the workers and thus to their alienation from themselves, their labor, the product of their labor, and one another. The worker, he said, becomes spiritually and physically deformed as a result of his participation in the market. Controlled by the desire for more (i.e. greed), the capitalist seeks to be and actually becomes richer at the expense of the poor--the worker. (See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto [Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books, 2009].) More recently, in What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), Michael J. Sandel argues that markets undermine our morality. He agrees that greed has certainly accompanied the expansion of markets and market values. But more critically, maintains Sandel, the market has a coercive side that...

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