Is the Market Moral? A Dialogue on Religion, Economics, and Justice, by Rebecca M. Blank and William McGurn. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. 2004. Paper, ISBN 0762307943, $16.95. 151 pages.
Seldom does one read a book on economics so well thought out and well written that it can treat a complex subject this thoroughly and understandably in only 151 pages. Rebecca M. Blank is an economist and William McGurn a journalist. It is tempting, therefore, to give Blank greater credit for the thought and McGurn greater credit for the writing. However, this would be unfair because clearly both authors are exceptional thinkers and writers.
The authors write about morality in the market from the perspective of Christianity, Blank a mainstream Protestant drawing largely from scripture and McGurn a Roman Catholic drawing largely from papal encyclicals. Blank and McGurn make initial statements, then they rebut each other, and finally each author makes a statement in conclusion. Blank's concluding chapter is titled "Creating a Virtuous Economy," while McGurn's is titled "Creative Virtues of the Economy." Each author contends that, on balance, the market is moral. Still, they see amoral and immoral behavior here and there. They offer public policy prescriptions for these ills. One of my own preferred targets is false or deceptive advertising, which I consider among the most antisocial behaviors of the market today. I wish Blank and McGurn had dealt with action to curb such advertising more sufficiently. Other moralists or ethicists in previous generations have sought to instill in business and industry a higher code of ethics, generally without much success. Heartening signs come along sporadically, only to be followed by disappointment. Is the market in America more moral than in the past? Read what Blank and McGurn conclude.
Authors writing from the perspectives of other religions might reach different conclusions, and it would be valuable and interesting to read similar books by authors representing other religions for contrast and comparison. Perhaps Brookings would consider expanding this into a series along those lines. It is essential to know what religion teaches us about economics.
Blank and McGurn engage in a philosophical dialogue, but it is not a debate on the question whether the market mechanism should exist. They accept as given that the market does exist; they simply debate its morality and whether market failures can be...