“Are Markets Moral?” (Melzer & Kautz, eds.)

Happy Labor Day! In honor of the holiday, I am picking up where Mark left off last week Marketsin noticing this very interesting looking collection of essays exploring the morality of the market and its discontents. The book is Are Markets Moral? (U. Penn. Press), edited by Arthur M. Melzer (the author of this book on esotericism that has been highly recommended to me) and Steven J. Kautz, with an exceptionally broad array of perspectives in the individual contributions (from Richard Epstein to Robert George to John Tomasi all the way to Steven Lukes, and everywhere in between!). In the meanwhile, ora et labora!!

Despite the remarkable achievements of free markets—their rapid spread around the world and success at generating economic growth—they tend to elicit anxiety. Creative destruction and destabilizing change provoke feelings of powerlessness in the face of circumstances that portend inevitable catastrophe. Thus, from the beginning, capitalism has been particularly stimulative for the growth of critics and doomsayers. While early analysts such as Karl Marx primarily emphasized an impending economic disaster, in recent years the economic critique of capitalism has receded in favor of moral and environmental concerns.

At the heart of this collection of original essays lies the question: does morality demand that we adopt a primarily supportive or critical stance toward capitalism? Some contributors suggest that the foundational principles of the capitalist system may be at odds with the central requirements of morality, while others wonder whether the practical workings of markets slowly erode moral character or hinder the just distribution of goods. Still others consider whether morality itself does not demand the economic freedom constitutive of the capitalist system. The essays in Are Markets Moral? represent a broad array of disciplines, from economics to philosophy to law, and place particular emphasis on the experiences of non-Western countries where the latest chapters in capitalism’s history are now being written.

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