Friday, March 19, 2010

Capitalism Makes Us Morally Better, Which Puts Attacks on It In a Rather Different Light

One does not have to endorse capitalism untethered from morality in order to believe that the free market approach to society is a better one in general. Here is an interesting column from The National Post by Tasha Kheiriddin. My comments are in red and [square brackets] and my emphases are in bold.
"A new study confirms what I have long suspected — market forces help make people nicer, not meaner. [I argued this point in my response to a blog post at the Evolving Church site recently.]

According to researchers who studied 2,000 people in 15 different societies around the world, the greater the prevalence of voluntary exchange, whether of labour or goods, the greater the level of socialization, openness to strangers, and fair play:

The study found that the likelihood that people "played fair" with strangers increased with the degree people were integrated into markets and participated in a world religion. Participants in the larger-scale societies were also more likely to punish players who did not play fair.

The hunter-gatherer and tribal societies studied are known for sharing among family and close acquaintances. But the researchers found fair play in monetary transactions with strangers was almost an alien concept. People in the simpler societies treated strangers less fairly, and were less likely to punish people who kept most of the money for themselves... [Free market societies have been leaders in breaking down prejudices and racism. Capitalism without a moral compass can be destructive of good things, but it can also destroy bad things.]

The emergence and growth of markets allowed for the exchange of goods, skills and knowledge and enabled large complex societies to emerge and function [the study’s author], Mr. Henrich says, noting that humans in large societies are not nearly as selfish as some would suggest.

Which begs the question; if governments act to curtail market forces, are they actually curbing our civilizing impulses as well? In other words, will a bigger welfare state take us back to our ruder, cruder nature? [An excellent question: certainly 20th century history suggests that the answer is yes.]

Certainly, receiving a state entitlement demands less of the recipient than a voluntary transaction would. Getting a government cheque or benefit is not an exchange; it is a one-way transaction, and often faceless at that. If our sense of fair play depends on our integration into a larger commercial society, then it follows that the more we are taken care of by government, the less practice we will have with exercising these impulses. [Socialism is destructive of conscience since it is based on organized, state-sponsored stealing. It also removes the incentive for self-discipline and self-improvement, since someone will just look after you even if you choose not to work hard.]

Furthermore, it appears that capitalism, and its attendant accumulation of wealth, encourages our charitable impulse as well. [This is a well known fact.] It goes without saying that unless you have money, you cannot give it away. And as the study notes, bestowing your wealth on family is one thing, but giving to total strangers is another. In this regard, one has only to compare the levels of charitable donations in Canada and the U.S. We may pride ourselves on being a kinder society than our neighbours, with our more expansive government and welfare state, but we are far less generous; Americans give twice as much to charity as we do, and are both more capitalist and religious in nature.

Hobbes described the life of man in his natural state as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." This new study would appear to bear that out — and contradict those who would crush markets as a means to make us more genteel."

No comments: