Morality and Capitalism
by Richard Girard
"The abstract concept 'society' means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society--in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence--that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is 'society' which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word 'society.'"
Albert Einstein, "Why Socialism?", Monthly Review, New York, May, 1949.
"Self-interest, or rather self-love, or egoism, has been more plausibly substituted as the basis of morality. But I consider our relations with others as constituting the boundaries of morality. With ourselves, we stand on the ground of identity, not of relation, which last, requiring two subjects, excludes self-love confined to a single one. To ourselves, in strict language, we can owe no duties, obligation requiring also two parties. Self-love, therefore, is no part of morality. Indeed, it is exactly its counterpart." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Law, 1814.
"No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of its members are poor and miserable. It is but equity besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged." Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, chapter 8.
The American economic system has gone from being the envy of the world thirty years ago, to being viewed by the world as a train wreck looking for a place to happen. For sixty years the American dollar has been the world's currency of choice. Now, thanks to the greed of American based multinational corporations--and the economic irresponsibility of three Republican administrations, who in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney said "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter;" the dollar's value is now two steps above that of toilet paper.
I say Republican, because when Jimmy Carter left office in 1981, the national debt stood at $914 billion dollars ($914,000,000,000.00, Bureau of Labor Statistics). When Ronald Reagan left in 1989, the national debt stood at almost two and three-quarters trillion dollars. George H.W. Bush left the national debt at over three and one-half trillion dollars. Bill Clinton balanced the budget in his second term, and achieved consecutive years of a budget surplus for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration (1956-7). What George W. Bush has done with the budget will again nearly double our national debt to some ten trillion dollars.
Our economic decline can be tied to our lack of critical thought about the moral basis of our economic system. In our society's exaltation of greed and selfishness, we have forgotten that Adam Smith was above all a "moral philosopher," and would have been disgusted by those who think what he wrote of in The Wealth of Nations is amoral.
One of these areas where critical thought is lacking is the Horatio Alger myth. Most of us will never be millionaires, no matter how hard we work, scrimp and save. (I am using the term "millionaire" as short-hand for the top 1% of the population who currently hold 40% of our nation's wealth, double--according to the Census Bureau--what the top 1% held in the late Seventies.)