Home > Papers > Should economics have an ethical content? Second group of papers for the ethics conference

Should economics have an ethical content? Second group of papers for the ethics conference

Here are the second group of papers for the conference. Instructions the same as for the last group.

Should economics have an ethical content?

  1. Karey
    March 14, 2012 at 12:15 am

    In a comment on DeMartino in group I refer to Chick’s discussion of Schumacher’s Buddhist ethics (p9) and Ono’s discussion of Confucian ethics (group 3) in relation to my paper (Harrison, group 3) examining the ontological assumptions of different approaches to economics. See the post in group 1 for the full comment.

  2. Karey
    March 14, 2012 at 2:24 am

    Avner Offer’s paper is complex and nuanced. His demonstration of the failure of market based approaches to health care is compelling. His demonstration that markets in health care breach the principle of ‘do no harm’ (p27ff) provides a depth of evidence that contrasts with DeMartino’s (group 1) more theoretical survey of ways mainstream economics leads to breaches of this principle.

    In relation to specific elements of Offer’s argument, I will only address one in this comment.

    Offer (p10) suggests that ‘the approbation of others is more credible than altruistic sympathy’ as’ a prime motivator’ that is ‘independent of, and compelling as, self-interest’ as the basis for ethical action. Tomer’s review of neuroscience and ethics (group 4) explores the evidence from research in neurophysiology that shows that the potential for ‘caring, other interest’ and empathy’ (p3) is a distinctive feature of the mammalian part of our brain.
    Offner claims that we need an ‘external signal’ or ‘gift’ (p12) to ‘authenticate other people’s approbation … [as we] do not have access to their hearts. But we [do] have access to our own’ (p11). This was consistent with the accepted scientific view

    ‘Before the discovery of mirror neurons, [when] scientists generally believed that our brains use logical thought processes to interpret and predict other people’s actions. Now, however, many have come to believe that we understand others not by thinking, but by feeling. For mirror neurons appear to let us “simulate” not just other people’s actions, but the intentions and emotions behind those actions. When you see someone smile, for example, your mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, creating a sensation in your own mind of the feeling associated with smiling. You don’t have to think about what the other person intends by smiling. You experience the meaning immediately and effortlessly’ (Carew et al. 2008, p.1).

    High speed photography has further shown that our faces reflect the firing of our mirror neurons with the presentation of ‘micro expressions’ mimicking the facial expresssions of those we are looking at. These micro expressions do not last long enough for us to see them with the unaided eye, but in association with the research on mirror neurons are implicated in our capacity to diagnose the feelings of others by virtue of our brains and bodies reproducing the signs in the other people’s bodies. There is some evidence, not yet conclusive, that people with schizophrenia or on the autism spectrum do not have the same pattern of activation of mirror neurons, nor the micro expressions mimicking other people, and that this could be affecting their capacity to diagnose other people’s emotional states.

    So while the potential for empathy may not be universally hard-wired in to us, there is evidence that it is near universal, even though the realisation of this potential depends on environmental and social arrangements that foster this development. As Tomer points out, this raises questions about the sort of social and economic arrangements that will promote the development of empathy and hence create a more ethical society (p22).

    Carew, T.J., Goldberg, M.E. & Marder, E., 2008. Mirror Neurons. Brain Briefings: Society for Neuroscience, November, pp.1–2.

  3. riccardobaldissone
    March 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    I posted on the first group page my reply to a comment on my paper by Angelo Fusari. The reply also hints to Angelo’s paper.

  4. Stuart Birks
    March 18, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    I have made some comments on Angelo Fusari’s paper in my post to group 1 today.

  5. March 23, 2012 at 12:17 am

    World Economics Association – 2012 Ethics Conference – Comments on Second Group of Papers
    by Frederic B. Jennings Jr., Center for Ecological Economic and Ethical Education (CEEEE), U.S.A.

    Again, I will comment on each paper in this second group, in turn, though in some cases I have little to contribute. The idea is to support this unique conference format by participating therein… – FBJ

    Manuel Branco: I really like Branco’s phrase that “[mainstream] economics regards human rights as competing rather than completing.” That says it all, in my opinion! I found this paper both thoughtful and informative, and I’ve no real disputes with any of it. I liked the emphasis on inclusiveness in contrast to the exclusiveness of economic orthodoxy. A few remarks on this is that, again, the emphasis on our standard assumptions of substitution, scarcity and tradeoffs seems to invite an exclusiveness because substitution implies an opposition of interests which in turn lends to a view of others as a threat to one’s own needs. An economics of complementarity (Jennings 2008) offers a quite different view. Furthermore, a horizonal (or cognitive) view will emphasize learning phenomena in economics, and that in turn will lead to an interesting contrast between the divergent strategies associated with a love vs. a fear of learning (in which the latter is inculcated by a competitive educational process under conditions that are far more conducive to cooperative relationships). In Branco’s discussion of cultural liberty and diversity as yielding a strong case for pluralism over monism, it occurs to me that when one has personal learning and growth as one’s primary motive for action, those different from oneself represent the greatest opportunity for learning and thus will be sought out, while in a defensive, fear-based culture, those different from oneself represent a threat and are therefore resisted, put down or resented, etc. So pluralism is part of the environment that is needed to encourage a more positive attitude toward personal learning and growth.

    Victoria Chick: I liked Chick’s paper, and found her discussion of Buddhist economics and Schumacher very interesting. She starts her discussion of Keynes with a quote that “characterizes the longer view” taken by Keynes (which “horizonal” emphasis should become more prevalent in a fully heterodox view, at least in my opinion: the economics of ‘horizon effects’ offer insight to many issues, and place ethics right at the center instead of at the periphery of our analysis: cf., e.g., Jennings 2009, 2012). One gets the sense from her discussion of Keynes – or, at least, I did – that the naïve materialistic emphasis in Keynes’ utopian projections is a part of the problem: as societies grow and develop, the composition of output and demand will shift away from material goods in favor of intangibles (and therefore away from substitution and scarcity issues toward complementarity, abundance and growth issues in economics: cf., e.g., Maslow 1954, 1968), and this sort of argument offers stronger support for an optimistic view ahead into time than any emphasis on material output, especially in the presence of severe ecological limits to growth in the materialistic context. There are far fewer limits to the expansion of human love and community here.

    But I also am oversimplifying Keynes’ view, to make that point, as Chick clearly explains (p. 10) that Keynes’ view did emphasize “the economics of enough” and the value of “friendship and contemplation of beautiful objects” as well. However, the contrast between Keynes and Schumacher on the means by which economic “growth” is achieved constitutes the core of the paper. Where Keynes sees “avarice, usury and precaution” (and thus ethical license) as necessary for economic growth, Schumacher sees that encouraging ethical license will reinforce such behavior, and not truly offer us any way beyond these self-indulgences into a more ethical society. In ethics, “what goes around, comes around.” On these issues, I think of the nice statement by Boulding (1962, p. 234) that:

    “…If capitalism is to work successfully, there must be defenses in the society against dishonesty. …A good part of the burden must be carried by … the internalization of these moral standards in the individual. This is done … by the example of those around the individual… For this reason, the building of honesty into a culture in which it does not already exist is a difficult matter, for dishonesty tends to perpetuate itself through the teaching process which it develops. Here again there is a constant struggle between the overt and the covert elements in the value system … if this results in a collapse of the overt system – in a general lapse into cynicism and the overt acceptance of a dishonest covert system – a society is doomed.”

    The problem is that, when cultural learning is taken into account, we are what we eat and what we do becomes who we are through a process of habit formation. And our social cultures are showing many pathological symptoms of higher-order need deprivation (cf., in particular, Argyris 1960, pp. 262-63, 268-69 and McGregor 1960, pp. 310-11, as discussed in Jennings 2012, p. 7), which I would argue are good illustrations of the horizon effects stemming from competitive incentive structures imposed upon an inherently complementary environment (intangibles, being complementary, are stifled by competition).

    I also liked Chick’s final “lesson” about the “insidious quality” of economic assumptions. It reminds me of Georgescu-Roegen’s (1970, p. 9) wonderfully pithy statement that: “The history of every science, including that of economics, teaches us that the elementary is the hotbed of the errors that count most.”

    Angelo Fusari: I really like Fusari’s point that social justice and efficiency are not substitutes but rather are complements, though he doesn’t put it precisely that way. It is very clear to me that a healthy respect for personal dignity lies at the very essence of economic and social well-being. My own view is that if economists were to incorporate a horizonal view into our understanding, and therefore address the most important (but still largely unvoiced) question of our age – that of “what sort of social incentive structures will lead to longer (private and social) planning horizons?” – a great many of these other issues would be addressable in a larger frame. I’m not sure the radical revisions supported by Fusari are the right or even a good way to go; I am sure that a horizonal view would contribute to our understanding of these matters.

    Fusari’s paper just seems to stop at the bottom of page 15. No references, no real conclusion. Is the WEA conference version of this paper complete, or were there some pages unintentionally omitted therefrom?

    Christian Kellerman et al.: This paper offers a “reformed capitalist model” called “Decent Capitalism.” They start with financial reform, although acknowledging that “a broader look at capitalism is necessary.” They argue that this new economic model should be “ecologically sustainable,” innovative, and socially ethical (fair and equitable) in its reward distribution. Their analysis of the first of these three issues is focused on “the failure of the price system” to send out signals inclusive of ecological impact, and they call for “radical changes in the structure of production and consumption and technological developments” as a means of achieving “green growth.” My own take on this argument is that it doesn’t go far enough in its understanding of the inherent conflict between a competitive market structure and an environment that is better characterized as complementary than substitutional. Our substitution assumptions lead us to favor a fragmented (individualistic and decentralized) economic structure, under the belief that competition is more efficient than cooperation (or “collusion,” to use the more loaded term), and will lead to greater social wellbeing. But in the presence of complementary relationships, these social welfare conclusions flip to favor cooperation as more efficient, where competition stifles complementary outputs such as intangible goods (love, community, ethics, ecological integrity, etc.). If the ecological system is a fully complementary process, seen in the large, then that is the reason competition yields ecological losses and the erosion of systemic cohesion. We economists need to question our substitution assumptions more readily than we generally do; they are leading us seriously astray in many important contexts…

    I found their discussion of financial reforms very interesting and mostly on point, though a discussion of market power and regulatory capture as problems of implementing such reforms might be of value here. As for the need for a “more equitable income distribution,” I think what they say is good, though I would also want to inject a horizonal component into this argument (cf. Jennings 2005, 2010a). After all, were we to incorporate into our economics an understanding of complementarity in regard to human needs, we would quickly see that helping each other advances the interests of all in most important human concerns.

    Juan Moreno-Brid and Martin Anyul: I like and endorse their support of the Hippocratic Oath and the precautionary principle, though with one important caution. With regard to my experience in fisheries management issues, the “precautionary principle,” even when written into the law and therefore required of fisheries managers, seems to be honored only in the breach and generally ignored in the real-world decisions made on fisheries, most especially when driven by a commercial bias due to regulatory capture. I also liked their review of “the relationships between inequality … and polarization and development” because polarization does indeed “foster conflict” and “reduce social cohesion” and so undermines any economic development process. But, once again, I would point to the ubiquity of economists’ substitution assumptions and our resulting emphasis on opposition as the primary characteristic of human relations as a significant part of this problem. If our interests are really aligned, dividing us reduces social well-being.

    Avner Offer: I found, with due respect to the other authors, that Offer’s paper was the most interesting, provocative and challenging of this group. I will go through and comment thereon. His statement at the very beginning that “financial motivations can crowd out intrinsic ones, such as compassion, public service, and professionalism” stands at the heart of so many proper objections to the emphasis on prices and materialistic concerns throughout traditional theory that it perfectly captures the theme of the paper.

    Offer argues, correctly I think, that: “The neglect of ethics … leads not only to moral failure, but also to failures of economic analysis and policy.” He illustrates this with the “Just World Theory” that, he says, justifies “the infliction of pain” by holding victims responsible for their own problems, which has the additional self-serving advantage of allowing those who have done well to take credit for their successes!

    I would take issue with Offer, however, on whether we know if the “invisible hand” theory is “true” or not. We do know! The invisible hand, to work properly, requires substitution and diminishing returns; the entire case for diminishing returns is founded on mere assertion, and it flies in the face of much stronger claims in favor of increasing returns (cf. Jennings 2011), which – in turn – imply that complementarity is “far more important” than substitution for understanding the economy (Kaldor 1975, pp. 347-48). The whole case for competition as efficient stands or falls on this question, as does most of free market theory.

    On p. 9 of Offer’s paper, he quotes the famous “the butcher, the brewer or the baker” statement of Adam Smith, and I am reminded of Lux’s (1990, p. 87) comment on this statement that:

    “Adam Smith made a mistake. …Adam Smith left out just one little word – a word which has made a world of difference. And if this mistake is not corrected, then the absence of that word could threaten to unmake a world. That word is only. What Adam Smith ought to have said was, “It is not only from the benevo-lence…”; then everything would have been all right.”

    I also found Offer’s (p. 10) argument that what we’re ‘really’ concerned with is not our “sympathy for others” but rather “the sympathy of others for ourselves” to be astonishingly imbued with the selfishness assumptions that are so rife throughout traditional theory, although Offer quotes Smith to that effect in support of his claim. A full recognition of complementarity and of the importance (and, hopefully, the corresponding achievement) of long horizons would suggest that sympathy and empathy arise in concert with horizonal lengthening (or, more accurately, horizonal broadening in all causal dimensions and not just in the temporal one, since the means for achieving a long time horizon is through this sort of broader understanding of all relevant – or ‘essential’ – causal dimensions) as a maturation process where ethics arise from a flowering conscience and an emergent sense of social responsibility (cf. Jennings 2012). So I don’t fully agree with this statement by Offer (p. 10): “As a motive that is equally compelling with self-interest, the approbation of others is more credible than altruistic sympathy.” I see both as linked here, and Offer does acknowledge this in what seems almost an aside: “Our capacity to sympathize with others, has to be assumed in order to make the sympathy of others credible to us.” However, his orientation is still selfish at its very essence, while a proper absorption of the implications of complementary interests evaporates and dissolves a distinction between the interests of self and of others in many important ways. When Offer (p. 11) remarks that “this need for approval has been wired in” I expected him to move to a discussion of mirror neurons and their relevance to this subject, but he doesn’t do so (cf. Jennings 2010b).

    Offer goes on to discuss the role of reciprocity and cooperation in economic relations, and distinguishes large and impersonal markets (the realm of the invisible hand) from smaller personal markets (the realm of the ‘impartial spectator’) where reciprocity is stronger and virtue and ethics carry more weight. I liked the way he quotes Coase and Friedman to show their recognition and acceptance of this distinction too, and argues that the personal element plays a much larger role in market processes than either recognizes.

    Offer also has it just right that the Pareto efficiency concept “enshrines the status quo” especially with regard to the existing distribution of resources, and he notes the absurdity of using dollar values as a welfare measure unless we have fairly equal income distribution as well. One marvels, in some despair, that this is even necessary to point out! It is also worth a reminder, as Offer reports, that: “In classical economics from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, the object of policy was not the interest of individuals, but the welfare of society as a whole.” Again, this should be an obvious platitude in a mature economics. Offer’s discussion of “self-regard” is excellent, in my opinion; he comes very close to identifying the dominance of “unbounded self-regard” as pathological, but only says this “psychological model” is “not credible” because it excludes and devalues “friendship, love, loyalty, charity, patriotism, civility, solidarity, integrity, [and] impartiality, which are ubiquitous and compelling.” He actually does go further by saying that the “radical” assumptions of “methodological individualism and rational choice … may neutrally be described as sociopathic, i.e., inimical to social co-operation.” He calls it “a puzzle” as to why this extreme view has so “beguiled social scientists” and talks about “the posture of ‘toughness’” as a clue to the answer, while I think of the Republican audience that applauded Rick Perry for the appalling count of executions in Texas during his governorship with a cold chill running down my spine. He ends this discussion with a very nice statement: “In conclusion, people’s preferences are interdependent, not autonomous, They are driven by reciprocity as much as selfishness, by the quest to do the right thing, and receive the approbation they deserve. That is the actual view of Adam Smith, and it is building up new support. It is well-founded in reality.” But it is in his last substantive section where Offer really shines.

    He opens Section III (pp. 25-26) with a very powerful paragraph which I shall not quote in full, though I am tempted to do so. His first sentence states the issue: “The abstractions of ethics come to life in the recent record of health care in the United States.” He then goes on very succinctly to describe how an ethic of pure self-regard must fail miserably (and has done so) in this sort of ‘care’ environment, and discusses the key role of the Hippocratic Oath in this setting, and how the doctrine of ‘caveat emptor’ has distorted the incentive for care and twisted it in with that for money and financial gain. He traces a critical turning point to a Supreme Court decision in Goldfarb vs. Virginia State Bar (1975) declaring that trade associations for lawyers “were not immune to anti-trust” which “doctors embraced” as well, noting that “competition was not enhanced… But the duty of care was relaxed. Pricing power was given to imperson¬al commercial entities, insurance companies that only acted … in their own interest. In a market where prices are set by corporations, there is little room for obligation or a duty of care.” (p. 28) Offer goes on to elaborate on the ethical failures in medical research and thereby in knowledge and treatment protocols. There is also a lot of fraud in this industry: “In the medical economy where every service is provided as a commodity, fraud is rife… Healthcare is a ‘criminogenic’ industry.” (p. 32) Offer attributes these patterns to “the policy norm of caveat emptor” where an industry wholly dependent on personal care and attention has been commodified and depersonalized. “Caveat emptor applies. Opportunistic professionals are tempted to cash in the reputation for probity of which they are the temporary custodians. … This ethic of opportunism is pervasive. … In return for immediate gain, [opportunistic medical doctors] sacrifice present and future patients, and undermine the work of more selfless colleagues.” (p. 33) As in so many other ethical applications, there is a Gresham’s Law at play where ‘bad ethics drive out good ethics’ and make them (effectively) impossible to maintain in a competitive market context. It is shocking to see the comparison of U.S. healthcare results with those of other countries (pp. 34-35) “What is needed in this area of personal service for the duty of care to be effective, is an explicit rejection of the norm of caveat emptor, of the license to exploit the client’s ignorance.” (p. 39) A cogent, persuasive and powerful paper.

    Elena Sapir: I don’t have much to say about this paper. It’s hard to understand a lot of the latter parts outside the context of an economic discussion that has taken place in the Russian economic community. I feel a bit like I’ve entered into a conversation about halfway through, and am trying to catch up and to put the whole context together, with regard to the concept of “intellectual valleys” that I would prefer to call “cultural valleys.” I like her distinction between “market economy and free trade” where she defines the former in this way: “Market economy is a socio-economic system with its specific institutions, norms, values and relations that are beyond economic processes and relations in their narrow sense.” Yes… It is very nice to hear from a Russian economist, however, and to get an idea of what they are discussing there.

    Howard Aylesworth: This paper seems to have disappeared from the list, but I read it and will comment thereon, briefly. I like Aylesworth’s statement that “economic theory places human activity outside of nature and nature devoid of man” though I’m not sure what the “nature devoid of man” means here. The comment reminds me of Shepard’s (1982) great and pioneering book on the pathology of this separation.

    I certainly like and agree this statement: “An integral component of our socio-economic development is the increasingly more destructive impact it has had upon the ecosystem of which we are a part. Our response has been to largely ignore the consequences of our actions, and to deny our responsibility for our environmental footprint until it has reached crisis proportion. The ethical questions before us are how do we evaluate the world around us and what are our responsibilities for the changes we are making?” He goes on to say that: “From an ethical standpoint, civil society has lost contact with the natural world…” The most penetrating comment in the paper was, for me, this one, in the context of looking at “the impact of our actions both on ourselves and on the ecosystems that support us” where Aylesworth then asks: “Is it time for us to focus on resolving the issues which we don’t know, rather than basking in the light of what we do know?” The rest of the paper kind of goes flat for me. Aylesworth poses the question of “what is value” and how can we represent it “to make the market meet societal norms and expectations?”

    I take no issue with anything he says, but to say that: “These are not easy questions to answer” is not very helpful nor enlightening. Of course “moral values are embedded in economic theory” and “economics … is … a guide to action” (Indeed, that’s its whole purpose, isn’t it?) and market structure must “ensure all monetized costs are … reflected in prices” (but what about ecological losses that cannot be quantified or monetized with any accuracy?), and that all this “will require rules, regulations and oversight…” I agree that: “The next step is to develop the economic framework looking through the lens of human impact.”


    Argyris, Chris (1960), “The Impact of the Organization on the Individual” in Organization Theory, ed. D. S. Pugh, Penguin (1971), New York.

    Boulding, Kenneth E. 1962, “Ethics and Business: An Economist’s View,” in his Beyond Economics: Essays on Society, Religion and Ethics, University of Michigan Press (1968), Ann Arbor.

    Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas 1970, ‘The Economics of Production,’ American Economic Review, Papers and Proceed¬ings, Vol. 60, No. 2, May.

    Jennings, Frederic B. Jr. 2005, “How Efficiency/Equity Tradeoffs Resolve Through Horizon Effects,” Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 39, No. 2, June, pp. 365-73.
    _____ 2008, ‘A New Economics of Complementarity, Increasing Returns and Planning Horizons’ in Wolfram Elsner and Hardy Hanappi, eds., Varieties of Capitalism and New Institutional Deals, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, England.
    _____ 2009, ‘The Economics of Conscience and the Ethics of Externalities,’ in Christian Richter, Antonio Caleiro, and Carlos and Isabel Vieira, eds., Challenges for Economic Policy Design: Lessons from the Financial Crisis, Lambert Academic Publishing, Saarbrucken, Germany, pp. 417-52.
    _____ 2010a, ‘Toward a Horizonal Theory of Justice: Efficiency, Equity, Rights and Capabilities in a Free Market Economy,’ Forum for Social Economics, Vol. 39, No. 1, April, pp. 77-87.
    _____ 2010b, ‘The Economic Cultures of Fear and Love,’ presented at the ASE World Congress, Montreal, Canada, June.
    _____ 2011, ‘“The Hicksian Getaway” and “The Hirshleifer Rescue”: Increasing Returns from Clapham to Kaldor,’ presented at the IIPPE Conference, Istanbul, Turkey, May.
    _____ 2012, ‘Planning Horizons, Conscience and the Ethics of Externalities: Organizational Theory and the Emergence of Social Responsibility,’ presented at ASSA, ASE Sessions, Chicago, IL, January 2012; to be presented at the ASE World Congress, Glasgow, Scotland, June 2012, and at the AHE/IIPPE/FAPE Conference, Paris, France, July 2012.

    Kaldor, Nicholas 1975, ‘What Is Wrong With Economic Theory’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 89, No. 3, pp. 347-57.

    Lux, Kenneth 1990, Adam Smith’s Mistake: How a Moral Philosopher Invented Economics and Ended Morality, Shambhala Publications, Boston.

    Maslow, Abraham (1954), Motivation and Personality, Harper and Row, New York.
    _____ (1968), Toward a Psychology of Being, Van Nostrand, New York.

    McGregor, Douglas (1960), “Theory X and Theory Y,” in Organization Theory, ed. D. S. Pugh, Penguin (1971), NY.

    Shepard, Paul 1982, Nature and Madness, University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA.

  6. March 27, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Readers may also be interested to read the following post
    Ethics: A response To Krugman

  7. April 30, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Intellectual Valleys and innovation societies – A comment on Elena Sapir

    There was only one comment on Elena Sapir’s article, from Fred, and I think this was a shame because it contains a number of stimulating and important points that haven’t featured in the debate as much as they should have. I suspect the problem is not quite, as Fred suggests, that we are unfamiliar with Russian debates, but that the article is very brief and condenses a number of intermediate steps. For example, what is the connection between an innovating or creative society and ethical conduct? I myself strongly believe that there is a very powerful connection, (see Investing in Civilization on http://ideas.repec.org/p/pra/mprapa/26807.html) but I think there are a few links in the chain.

    There are several ideas in Professor Sapir’s article which I think are critical:

    (1) The idea of a ‘productive-intellectual-cultural synthesis of technological, economic and ethical values, behavioral patterns, relations, rituals and so on.’ One of the several ideas I take from this is the notion that society itself has to be constructed on ethical principles from the ground up, and has to find the institutions, technologies, and the social and economic principles that support that. The whole notion that we can consciously choose to construct society, even if only locally, on the basis of ethical principles and a rational vision and plan, has passed out of scholarly and policy discourses, and I think it needs to be reinstated.

    (2) The importance attached to “ethic[al], cultural, and civilizational drivers of … economic growth” is I think entirely right and very modern. The point is that society has now reached, in its economic evolution, the point where it not only makes moral sense to speak of the creative and cultural enhancement of the spirit as the basic principle of civilization, but it now makes economic sense too. Vicky Chick has referred to the idea of the ‘economics of enough’ – the point which we may well have reached, where the material wants of humans can be satisfied at existing levels of production, and where growth takes place in the realm of cultural and human development. This is a very real and practical point, not at all a vague aspiration. In fact personally, I believe that a lasting ‘exit’ from the present stagnating state of our economies will only be possible on the basis of such a radical shift

    (3) The notion that an ethical society is a society of rights; one which is “beyond economic processes and relations in their narrow sense. It is the field of ethical imperatives, civil behavior, social responsibility, liberal values, democracy, and respect for human rights based on the principles of humanism and justice. It is precisely the lack of any respect for human rights, even for basic liberties never mind the ‘positive rights’ of education, health, housing, and so on, that most characterizes the profoundly unethical foundations of the present economic system.

    (4) The particularly challenging idea that this is something which can be undertaken ‘locally’ – not in the sense of tiny co-operatives or hippy communities, but at the level of cities and regions. This very much accords with the thinking of a number of key trends in Urban Planning and Regional Planning too, and it opens up a field of practical (and ethical) activity for economists which has been underdeveloped in the past. I look forward to more engagement with Professor Sapir’s colleagues and hope their ideas will get more exposure in the West.

    Alan Freeman

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