Skip to main content

Markets and Morals

A recent paper on the economics of new media flags an interesting moral assumption inbuilt in most market based relations. It has echoes of Michael Sandel's recent arguments on the moral limits of markets.
At a superficial level, it is apparent that people act differently, and are expected to act differently, in the context of relationships mediated by money than in other contexts. Behaviour that would be regarded favourably in a non-monetary context is regarded as foolish or even reprehensible in a monetary context. One of the most important general differences relates to rationality and calculated reciprocity. In a non-market context, careful calculation of costs and benefits and an insistence on exact reciprocity is generally deprecated. By contrast, in market contexts, the first rule is never to give more than you get. Why is it more important to observe this rule in market contexts? One reason is that markets create opportunities for systematic arbitrage that do not apply in other contexts. In an environment where trust is taken for granted, a trader who consistently gives slightly short weight can amass substantial profits. If trading partners assume honourable behaviour, none will suffer enough to notice. This is much more difficult to do in ordinary social contexts. Similar points can be made about other motives. There are a whole range of sales tricks designed to exploit altruism, friendship, desire for self-expression and so on. Hence, to prosper in a market context, it is necessary to adopt a view that “business is business,” and to (consciously or otherwise) adopt a role as a participant in the market economy that is quite distinct from what might be conceived as one's “real self.
The last sentence is particularly important because it does remind us that though  market based transactions are predicated on "freedom" and can even be argued to maximise greater material welfare, the market is not always morally neutral and usually accentuate the worst rather than the best in people. Christians reflections on the role of market in society therefore must be much broader than what we tend to hear from the American religious right. Equally important is that it must take on board new reflections from the secular philosopher Michael Sandel who cogently argues in his recent book that the relentless march of prices in our lives has led to erosion of social assets / goods that money simply can't buy. The result is that as a society, we are all becoming poorer for it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I am what I am by Gloria Gaynor

Beverly Knight closed the opening ceremony of the Paralympics with what has been dubbed the signature tune of the Paralympics. I had no idea Ms Knight is still in the singing business. And clearly going by the raving reviews she will continue to be around. One media source says her performance was so electric that "there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen as she sang the lyrics to the song and people even watching at home felt the passion in her words" . The song was Gloria Gaynor's I am what I am . Clearly not written by Gloria Gaynor but certainly musically owned and popularized by her. It opens triumphantly: I am what I am / I am my own special creation / So come take a look / Give me the hook or the ovation / It's my world that I want to have a little pride in / My world and it's not a place I have to hide in / Life's not worth a damn till you can say I am what I am The words “I am what I am” echo over ten times in the song. A bold declaration that she

The Proof of Humility

It is easy to think we humble ourselves before God: humility towards men will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real; that humility has taken up its abode in us; and become our very nature; that we actually, like Christ, have made ourselves of no reputation. When in the presence of God lowliness of heart has become, not a posture we pray to Him, but the very spirit of our life, it will manifest itself in all our bearing towards our brethren. The lesson is one of deep import: the only humility that is really ours is not that which we try to show before God in prayer, but that which we carry with us, and carry out, in our ordinary conduct; the insignificance of daily life are the importance and the tests of eternity, because they prove what really is the spirit that possesses us. It is in our most unguarded moments that we really show and see what we are. To know the humble man, to know how the humble man behaves, you must follow him in the common course of dai

Babylon will fall

From beginning to end the message of the Bible, this revelation of God, is that there is to be an end to the world, and that the end is judgement…There is a day coming when astonished humanity is going to hear this cry: 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen' (Rev 14:8). What is Babylon? It is the world without Christ. It is London without Christ. It is New York without Christ. It is all these modern infernos without Christ. Babylon the great, Babylon is fallen, is fallen. This Babylon which seemed so great and wonderful, with its palaces and its great businesses, transacted with all the kings and the princes, and the great of the earth, who all brought their merchandise to it. They boasted of it. How great, they said, is Babylon. That is the world without Christ. But the day is coming when he will judge it, and this Babylon will fall, it will be crushed to rubble and to nothing. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (Source: The Cross)