Monday, June 29, 2015

Is the Free Enterprise System Moral or Amoral?

Is the free enterprise system (otherwise known as laissez-faire, market libertarianism, etc.) amoral or moral? The answer is: it's both, and it's a doubly good thing.

On the one hand, it is amoral insofar as one of its primary competitive advantages is its impartial efficiency - due to its inherent institutional features, such as the competitive incentive structure, the intersubjective profit-and-loss-based price system, rapid aggregation of decentralized and tacit information, etc., it is peerlessly effective in promoting all kinds of social values, which may correspond to all kinds of moral and prudential systems. In this sense, the free enterprise system is the most effective means of pursuing individual satisfaction, which is a subjective, and thus an amoral concept.

But on the other hand, the free enterprise system is also inherently moral, since its indispensable institutional features embody all the cardinal virtues: prudence (the ability to forecast the uncertain future and create a viable business plan), courage (the willingness to take risks and disregard the conventional wisdom), temperance (the ability to delay gratification and commit one's resources to a long-term project), and justice (the necessity of fulfilling one's contractual obligations). In addition, since every voluntary transaction is necessarily a positive-sum game, and since the free enterprise system is necessarily based exclusively on such transactions, it is necessarily grounded in what might be called reciprocal philanthropy.

In sum, the free enterprise system is amoral insofar as it can effectively promote all kinds of social philosophies in their peaceful varieties (which is a good thing), and it is moral insofar as its inherent institutional structure instantiates the entrepreneurial-utilitarian virtues of courage, prudence, and temperance, the deontological virtue of justice, and the broadly humane virtue of reciprocal philanthropy (which, needless to say, is also a good thing).

Thus, three moral cheers for laissez-faire, since there is not only hardly anything as efficient, but also hardly anything as fair.

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