Title

The Moral Ecology of Markets: On the Failure of the Amoral Defense of Markets

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

6-2003

Abstract

Many economists have defended capitalism; most have tried to do so within the self-imposed methodological constraint that economists should employ only empirical arguments, not normative ones. This essay examines three classic amoral defenses of capitalism—by Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and Friedrich Hayek—and argues that each fails on its own terms, since each implicitly incorporates moral presumptions essential to the author's argument. Constructively, the essay proposes that no one can adequately endorse (or critique) markets without making a moral evaluation of their context—their “moral ecology.” Four issues are identified as necessarily addressed in every adequate evaluation of markets. The essay does not endorse any one position on these elements, but argues instead that seemingly incommensurable standpoints on markets—ranging from Marxist to libertarian—actually represent positions on these four basic issues.