Markets Promote Peace and Harmony

The market economy is a remarkable institution: It reduces poverty, decreases discrimination, and provides opportunities for constructive social and economic advancement far more reliably than do government programs. And yet despite all the good that markets do, many people are dubious about the moral case for markets. As economist Dwight R. Lee writes in the fall 2012 issue of The Independent Review, “Stereotypical market behavior fails to satisfy the conditions that people associate emotionally with morality.” (The full article is available here.)

Lee believes that markets would get the appreciation they deserve if the public better understood the many positive results that they bring, especially one benefit in particular: Markets help soften some of our darkest emotional tendencies—especially our proclivity to view the world in terms of “us” versus “them” and to succumb to that emotion by initiating violence against others.

“By creating positive-sum opportunities on a global scale,” Lee continues, “the mundane morality of markets makes it possible for us to see strangers as allies in our efforts to improve our lives rather than as enemies to be plundered and eliminated before they plunder and eliminate us.”

The mission for economists, Lee concludes, is to redouble their efforts to educate the public about how markets foster social harmony and to show how economic thinking can shed light on moral issues in ways that resonate with a large audience.

“Moderating the Dark Side of Emotional Morality with the Bright Side of Market Morality,” by Dwight R. Lee (The Independent Review, Fall 2012)

The Independent Review (Fall 2012)

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[This post draws from the October 2, 2012, issue of The Lighthouse. To subscribe to this weekly newsletter and other announcements from the Independent Institute, enter your email address here.]

Carl Close is Research Fellow and Senior Editor for The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review and editor of The Lighthouse, The Independent Institute’s weekly e-mail newsletter.
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