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Charles Seese

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Can capitalism exist in a world of pure morality?

Barry Schwartz discusses the concept of shifting our cultural focus onto strengthening moral will and moral skill, and entering an era of true wisdom. An obvious comparison he makes is to the ways that corporations abuse the current system of rules and incentives to get what they want. This idea brought up a thought in my head, can capitalism survive in a world of moral strength and character? Does competition thrive when doing the right thing comes before profits?

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    Dec 1 2011: Certainly not parasitic capitalism that rewards short term profits and leaves liabilities of environmental, economic and social consequences in spades.

    In a world of morality, short term profits and unintended consequences would be outlawed by a moral imperative that is more concerned with what is left future generations instead of what is taken for the short term. Unfortunately there is no substantial evidence of morality and capitalism co-existing.

    And it's getting worse daily.
  • Dec 14 2011: if we look at capitalism from a VERY general point of view, you m use be one of the ones benefiting from the capitiliste system to be able to even have to possibility and comfort to take the time to stop ad ask this question. Thats why it's not a very moral economique system. The ones who are taken advantage of can't afford to speak freely about the abuse that comes with it. Capitalism only advantages a minor percentage of the worlds population. The rest are exploited. The answer to your question, according to me is no. Unless its majorly changed, in with case, it would no longer be capitalism.
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    Dec 3 2011: I'm not sure what you mean by "pure morality", so I will assume you are talking about a world in which everybody is moral.

    In such a world can capitalism exist? Sure it can, in fact it probably would work very well. The problem with capitalism is that it ONLY works well in a world where everybody is moral. In the real world of greed and deceit it tends to run into problems.

    The great challenge of systems of power is finding a means by which the process of acquiring positions of power prepares one for the moral responsibility of holding that position. That is what democracy attempts to do (though not entirely successfully).
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    Dec 2 2011: Dear Charles:

    Is morality universal? Was it always the same? Will it always be as it is now? Is it the same in the US than in Burma?

    Can you describe the morality you are referring to in detail?

    In case you can’t answer the previous questions in consistence with your argument, can you say that a model/system is immoral? Does it makes sense?

    Let’s assume that you narrow down your concept of morality to a certain area, time, etc, and are able to describe it to the detail. Then you map capitalism against that description, and you find out that capitalism is immoral, automatically most of the population (the ones that participate) would be either immoral or you can argue that are being unknowingly forced to be immoral. Does this even makes sense?



    PS if you want to say that capitalism is unfair because of x y z, that is a different conversation
  • Dec 2 2011: The word pure is making it unrealistic here. In a sales negotiation, every seller would know exactly what his product is worth and exactly what is an acceptable profit margin. Every buyer would be able to know in an instant if the price of the product provided an acceptable level of value to him. In competitive bidding, bidding would be open and competitors would walk away if they saw that one bid could not reasonably be beat and they were confident no other factors could influence an award decision. Walking away would be done out of honor because they would not want the customer to pay more than he had to pay.

    I think a market economy is capable of being generally moral, with the understanding that the consumer needs to do his part and be an informed consumer. Otherwise, he is the weak link in a survival of the fittest situation. Regulations should be put in place to permit survival of even the most unfit citizen, even though they may not thrive. The strong should be permitted to thrive and prosper for all hard work, risk taking, and innovation. However, the strong need to be held accountable for actions taken that involve thriving as a result of not conforming to regulations, deceptive practices, cheating in competitions, or gaming the system to take advantage of weaker citizens. Regulations, the judicial process, and those in positions of power with the responsibility to hold the strong accountable for actions that are immoral relative to the business process all need to function morally and pro-actively to ensure the process we have in place is as moral as it can be and that strength of character is rewarded rather than being penalized.

    Because of the differences in businesses, people, regulations, and value systems of the citizens and men that control the processes, capitalism will never be pure. It will always be a system of ever changing small adjustments and corrections to optimize profits relative to consumer needs, regulation and morality.
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    Dec 2 2011: A syllogism:
    A world of pure morality disallows immorality.
    Capitalism is not inherently immoral.
    Capitalism can exist in a world of pure morality.
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    Dec 1 2011: in capitalism, competition does not mean how to put the fellow men down. competition means how to do thing better.

    what is the right thing? one can argue that material things don't count. but it is a statement people disagree with in their actions. people want to have better food, better clothing, better entertainment, more books, better health systems, better education, more time to learn, more time to think, meditate, do arts, listen to music, be with family and friends. these are the material things, in the sense that you need better economy to get these.

    capitalism allows people to pursue such needs. regardless of value judgment. whatever you find important, you can pursue. you can find partners in that pursuit. and nobody can stop you or tell you what to do.

    in short, in a world of moral and tolerance, only capitalism can survive.
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      Dec 2 2011: Hey Krisztian. I may not agree with your conclusion (that only capitalism can survive), but I certainly commend your concept of competition in capitalism.

      If more people practiced it as you have spelled it, doing things better, as opposed to putting fellow men down, certainly we would have a much more palatable version of capitalism

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    Dec 1 2011: Evolution is about adapting to changing conditions on a NEED basis (defensive action) whilst capitalism is about conquering material wealth on a WANT basis (offensive action). The two are different.
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      Dec 2 2011: Explain why evolution is defensive, and why capitalism is offensive, please.
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        Dec 2 2011: The evolution of species happens on a need basis as it is a reaction to the environmental changes. In a capitalist system you are encouraged to acquire wealth that you do not need, hence they are different. However your earlier comment got me thinking :)
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          Dec 2 2011: I don't understand what you mean, or I disagree.
          For me, both are about the selection of opportunities. Trial and error. There is no offensive or defensive here. A genetic variation or a buisness variation are either selected or dismissed. Moskitos and McDonnald's thrive for the same reasons.
          The genes in a moskito are selected if they cause their environment to make copies of them.
          Same with McDonnald's, a BigMac is selected if it causes people to buy it, which causes it to be replicated.
          BigMacs and Moskito genes are replicated a lot, hence the success of both McDonnald's and Moskitos.

          "Wealth you do not need" is not explanatory, since wealth is always claimed to be needed. Either to survive, or to create employment, or to buy luxury items, or to gamble on wallstreet...
          "On a need basis" is a misconception. Living organisms take what they can, not what they need. If a animal is well fed with a minimum effort, true, it will not waste energy on killing more prey. But it will wisely invest this energy in getting its genes replicated more than those of rivals. If trees could afford to spread more seeds, it surely would, since it'd be a selective advantage.
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    Dec 1 2011: "Doing the right thing" and "profit" are absolutely not incompatible.
    Human sense of morality comes from the worst kind of capitalism : evolution.