Saturday, November 19, 2011

Of Markets and Morality

By Brian Lynch

Some business people speak as if profit is the sacred purpose of business.  Really?    

By assigning such a purpose to business, and through the Supreme Court’s perception that corporations have human rights, we’ve turn businesses into beings.  At the same time we’ve turned commercial markets, where business is transacted, into natural eco-system that abhors human regulation. We’ve been told it operates by intrinsic rules analogous to natural selection.* 

This humanization of businesses and dehumanization of markets reverses reality. Markets are more like playing fields, to use a sports analogy.  Football is played one way on one field and baseball another way on  a different field because of  two different sets of rules that we all agreed upon.  Change the rules and you change the sport.  Eliminate the rules and the game devolves into bloodshed.  Rules create the game in just the same way that rules create the markets.  The market rules can be be fair and produce a level playing field, or they can be tilted in favor of some over others. How markets operate is a reflection of our collective social character, not some mysterious set of natural laws.

The idea that business are called into being by the gods of commerce is pure mythology.  Businesses are organizational structures to coordinate the labor necessary to create products to be sold or traded.  There is no higher purpose, no beating heart or soul beyond the reflection of the humans in charge.  If a business holds profits higher than other human principles it is because those in charge hold that view.  

What justifies such open expressions of a profit motive when mortals find greed so sinful?  It’s justified by the need to survive in a dehumanized market place.  If you don’t like the way business is conducted don’t blame the owners or CEO, blame the markets.  But wait!  You can’t blame the markets because they operates outside of human invention.  Our social norms don’t apply to the markets, right?

* Ironically, some of those who hold this free market view don't believe in evolution in the natural world where it does hold true.  

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