Thursday, May 31, 2012

Our Culture's "Screwed-Up" Moral Priorities

In Bain And Our Screwed-Up Culture, liberal columnist Froma Harrop recently took a pot shot at Bain Capital, Governor Romney's former private equity firm. I culled this bit for commentary:

Let's talk about capitalism. Granted, self-interest fuels the "animal spirits" that create our great business enterprises. Because the benefits of capitalism flow down to society at large, we are often at pains to divide ethical behavior from the other kind. Sometimes labor costs must be cut to stay competitive. Not every factory can be saved. And Bain apologists argue with some merit that the companies acquired were in trouble to begin with.
My commentary:

Yes, indeed, "let's talk about capitalism."

Since self-interest fuels the creation of "our great business enterprises," what does that tell you about which side of the ethical "divide" self-interest inhabits? Business--large and small, great and modest--is the core of capitalism that creates all of the goods and services our lives depend upon. What does that tell you about capitalism, the only social system that liberates all individuals--"society at large"--to pursue their own self-interest, by inalienable right?

It tells you that capitalism--properly understood as the separation of economics and state rather than the mixed economy we have now--is the moral social system, because self-interest--properly understood--is the life-giving moral ideal. "The benefits of capitalism flow down to society at large" because successful business enterprises are saturated with self-interest, from the owners who pursue profits, to the investors and lenders who supply capital, to the employees who choose to fill the jobs they create, to the suppliers they buy from, to the customers who buy its products. 

Doing what is truly self-interested requires virtues such as sound judgment, honesty, integrity, long-range planning, self-discipline, the ability to engage constructively with others, and so on--in other words, a commitment to rationality. After all, chasing after instant gratification without regard for long-term consequences is hardly in one's self-interest. It is self-destructive, and self-destruction has never built anything, let alone a successful business enterprise.

What's screwed-up is our culture's understanding of self-interest as morally corrupt, and of capitalism as a necessary evil.

One more juicy bit from Harrop, which I can't resist:

OK, but if a company is in trouble, do you multiply its debt by a factor of 22 and immediately take out millions for yourselves? That's what Bain did at Ampad, and, sorry, "looting" is the word.
This sounds like a miniaturized version of the welfare state, with its massive transfer of wealth from those who earned to those who didn't that is measured not in a few paltry millions but in the multi-$trillions of debt? If what Bain did is "looting," then the welfare state is the elephant and Bain the flea.

If Leftists are going to bring up looting, the first place they should be pointing the finger is at the person staring back from the mirror.

For more, see:

Hypocracy Left and Right

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