Capitalism might be making us evil
A study by 2 German economists finds that markets make people more likely to betray their own moral codes.
Well, maybe just the research of a couple of German economists.
According to a release from the universities of Bamberg and Bonn, a study by economists Armin Falk and Nora Szech released in the journal Science found that markets erode people's morality and help them make decisions that look outright awful without the thin veil of commerce. In short, capitalism makes us do some not-so-nice things.
Of course, shoppers who went out and bought clothes at retailers tied to the deaths of more than 1,100 textile workers in Bangladesh and who buy jeans that CNN says have caused whole rivers in China to turn blue already know this. But the study's key question -- would you let a mouse be killed in exchange for 10 euros? -- presented the theory in far starker terms.
In the first control group of several hundred subjects, 46% agreed to let the mice die.
Then the researchers upped the stakes by putting more people in a market environment, where rights to trade the lives of the mice were bought and sold. In that context, 72% of the people involved were willing to trade the lives of mice for money -- but for far less than 10 euros.
When the study complicated that market even further by adding more levels of traders, roughly 76% of people in the study would kill mice for even lower prices.
"This logic is a general characteristic of markets," Falk says in a press release. "If I don't buy or sell now, someone else will."
Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel said roughly as much about capitalism's open markets in an excerpt from his book "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets," published by The Atlantic. He warns that America is in danger of becoming a "market society, a way of life in which market values and market reasoning reach into every sphere of life."
Sandel uses the example of a woman who earned $10,000 for having a company's Web address tattooed on her forehead and then used the money to help pay for her son's education. The problem with being able to buy and sell everything, he says, is that we devalue the things we are buying and selling.
While the German economists insist that not all markets are evil, they further posit that not all elements of human existence should be subject to forces of the market. If we're willing to kill mice for money, they imply, we may not be so hesitant to let soldiers, factory workers or other people die so that we might gain. As the researchers wrote: "We as a society have to think about where markets are appropriate and where they are not."
No, capitalism does not make us evil; but evil people skew the better qualities of capitalism.
Some of these things have to be carefully considered though. It may seem immoral to allow prostitution, but if the alternative is that the women in question starve to death or suffer much more than the morality is not so clear.
For the most part people should be left alone to decide what they want to buy and sell when it comes to themselves and their own well being. Even drugs should be fought by information campaigns and not with law enforcement.
Where regulation is most needed is when uninformed choices can result in widescale disaster that affects society as a whole, such as issues regarding pollution and global warming.
It's sad if a person hurts themselves with a bad choice, but it costs infinite effort to try to forcibly prevent people from making them. The more you try to force them, the more effort they put into defying you. In contrast, people learning on their own and from mistakes of others costs society nothing and is much more effective.
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