Do Markets Corrupt Our Morals?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Short answer: No.

Slightly longer answer: Of course not. If anything, it's the opposite.

The authors, Virgil Henry Storr and Ginny Seung Choi, are at George Mason University's Mercatus Center. They have written a very dense analysis of a topic that's been discussed for centuries, succinctly expressed in their book's title. Admittedly, in my case, they were pushing on a wide-open door.

But, to their credit, they present the arguments of the anti-market faction fairly. The views of the big guns (Aquinas, Marx, Rousseau) are dealt with at length. The book moves on to lesser-known more recent critics. A popular theme: free-market capitalism creates monsters. Eek! (For unpleasant diversion, ask the Google to tell you about zombie capitalism, vampire capitalism, frankenstein capitalism, … well, you get the idea.)

In an interesting twist, Storr and Choi criticize some defenders of free markets, who argue from a (more or less) Gordon Gekko position: "Greed is good." People tend to forget that Adam Smith's famous "Invisible Hand" observation was premised on the "natural selfishness and rapacity" of the rich. Nevertheless, those motives lead to "the interest of the society." There have been plenty of folks since who point out the unsavory moral flaws in the capitalist class, while nevertheless appreciating the prosperity that issues forth as a result of their efforts.

Such critics, pro- and anti-, engage in a lot of speculative handwaving and selective anecdotes. Storr and Choi prefer a data-driven approach, backed up with quantitative research, insights from moral psychology, and experimental market-simulating "games" they designed and carried out themselves. (I assume with hapless George Mason students as the participants.) They observe that the citizenry of countries with market-based economies really do behave better than those in non-market countries. Market-based countries are less corrupt. They are (of course) wealthier, but that wealth is more likely to be turned to worthy, unselfish causes.

Of course, critics point to the "cutthroat competition" of market economies, but (as always) the rejoinder is "compared to what?" Carrying out the research necessary to answer that question shows that the mayhem implied by "cutthroat" is way overblown. The entire idea of markets is that of peaceful, cooperative, positive-sum transactions between buyers and sellers, both sides judging themselves better off. Markets are (in the authors' lingo) "moral training grounds": one way humans learn to be good is by engaging in trade.

As stated, this book is dense, in an academic sense: loaded with references. But (thank goodness) it's relatively easy to skim over the most formal bits and appreciate this book at my dilettante level.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:41 AM EST

I Got Vivek Fever, Baby!

[Vivek in Manchester] And the only cure is: more Ramaswamy!

Confession time: I had never heard of, or at least paid attention to, Vivek Ramaswamy until two days ago when composing Sunday's Phony Campaign update post. When I went to the Betfair betting market page for the 2024 GOP presidential nominee to check out their (very long) list of potential candidates, to see if anyone was giving our state's governor, Chris Sununu, a serious shot.

The answer to that question was: no, at least not yet. But appearing even lower on the list than the Gov: Vivek Ramaswamy. Um, OK, who's that?

And then I went to Granite Grok for my daily dose of red-meat Trumpism, and noticed the ad at your right. Yes, Vivek's coming to New Hampshire's Queen City for "discussing a special announcement". It is not a paid ad here, but clicking on it will take you to a form you can fill out for a chance at that free beer/wine ticket at Murphy's Taproom tomorrow night.

And then I came across this Brittany Bernstein article at National Review: Woke, Inc. Author Vivek Ramaswamy ‘Strongly Considering’ Run for President. Excerpt:

Vivek Ramaswamy, the millionaire entrepreneur and author of Woke, Inc., told National Review on Monday that he is “strongly considering” a run for president and expects to make a decision “very soon.”

Ramaswamy said he’s been drawn to the idea of running to address a “national identity crisis” that has left Americans hungry for purpose, meaning, and identity.

“We are at a point in our national history when the things that used to fill that void — faith, patriotism, hard work, even family — have disappeared,” he said, adding that in its absence, “wokeism, climate-ism as an ideology, radical gender ideology, Covidism” have become secular religions that fill that “black hole of identity.”

Interesting! Although it's tempting to crack wise about how he's competing with Nikki Haley for the Indian-American vote. I have to say this tweet has a number of good ideas:

And one bad one; I have a libertarian left-kneejerk reaction against any proposal that starts with the word "ban".

And you know what would destroy (not just decimate) drug cartels? Legalizing drugs. Maybe that's what he's proposing, but I doubt it.

Anyway, personal obligations prevent me from going to Murphy's Taproom tomorrow night, but if I notice (or get sent) reactions from folks who attended, I'll pass them along.

Briefly noted:

  • David R. Henderson and Philip W. Magness notes a funny thing about a Hulu "docuseries" whose print origin attempted to show "how the institution of enslavement impacted the development of American capitalism." Nay, say Henderson and Magness: ‘The 1619 Project’ on Hulu Vindicates Capitalism.

    Hulu’s series “The 1619 Project” blames economic inequality between blacks and whites on “racial capitalism.” But almost every example presented is the result of government policies that, in purpose or effect, discriminated against African-Americans. “The 1619 Project” makes an unintentional case for capitalism.

    The series gives many examples of government interventions that undercut free markets and property rights. Eminent domain, racial red lining of mortgages, and government support and enforcement of union monopolies figure prominently.

    The final episode opens by telling how the federal government forcibly evicted black residents of Harris Neck, Ga., during World War II to build a military base. The Army gave residents three weeks to relocate before the bulldozers moved in, paying below-market rates through eminent domain. After the war, the government refused to let the former residents return. Violation of property rights is the opposite of capitalism.

    Don't even get them started on Woodrow Wilson.

  • Kevin D. Williamson does some cold-eyed scenario-building with the 25th Amendment: ImPOTUS.

    Speaking of the 25th Amendment, there is a part of it with which many Americans are not familiar: If Biden wants to nominate a new secretary of state or a Supreme Court justice, this requires the approval of the Senate—but if the president wishes to choose a new vice president, this requires the approval of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which currently is under Republican control. There are many Democrats who wish to be rid of Vice President Kamala Harris, whom they have rightly judged to be a political liability with no likely political future of her own, but the only way Biden is getting rid of Harris is by dumping her from the ticket and getting reelected in 2024. It is very difficult to imagine House Republicans voting to approve any new vice president Biden might conceivably choose. Mitch McConnell took a lot of heat for running out the clock on Merrick Garland but, far from paying a political price for this, he harvested a bumper crop of political benefits. Kevin McCarthy, who serves at the mercy of a dozen or so howling moonbats, would have no incentive at all to help Biden replace Harris—and with the vice presidency vacant, McCarthy would be second in line to the presidency with only the oldest-ever incumbent between him and the Oval Office. That’s a storyline more appropriate to a political thriller, but it is something to keep in mind if your current Kremlinology tells you Harris is going anywhere.

    Biden is stuck with Harris, and Democrats—and the country—are, it seems, stuck with the both of them, however doddering the man in charge of the executive branch of the federal government may be. It is tempting to write that with only a little sensible political calculation, Republicans could put themselves in an unbeatable situation. But if you think the coming election is foolproof, then you don’t know the fools in question.

    I could imagine a Very Grave Constitutional Crisis, which would cause me to stock up on coffee and popcorn.

  • Jacob Sullum notes the misinformation monitors at your grandma's social media site have gone astray: Facebook Says Noting the CDC's Scientific Misrepresentations 'Could Mislead People'.

    Facebook says my recent column about face masks is "missing context" and "could mislead people," based on an assessment by "independent fact checkers." That judgment and the analysis underlying it show how reflexive deference to government agencies distorts supposedly "independent" summaries of scientific evidence on controversial issues, especially issues related to COVID-19 control measures. When one of those agencies gets something wrong, criticism of its position is apt to be labeled "misleading" on social media platforms that strive to police COVID-19 "misinformation" at the government's behest, regardless of what the evidence actually shows.

    My column summarized the results of January 30 Cochrane Library review that considered 18 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) aimed at measuring the effectiveness of surgical masks or N95 respirators at reducing the spread of respiratory viruses. Judging from those studies, the Cochrane review found, wearing a mask in public places "probably makes little or no difference" in the number of infections. The authors said that conclusion was based on "moderate-certainty evidence."

    Does the Cochrane review prove that masks are worthless in protecting people from COVID-19? No. But it does show that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) misled the public about the strength of the evidence supporting mask mandates, which was the point I made in my column.

    That first link in the excerpt is not working for me. Maybe FB wised up?


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST