Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy
By Paul J. Zak (Ed.)
Princeton University Press, 2008
Moral Markets is a collection of essays based on the premise that markets are driven by virtuosity, an ambitious argument in today’s climate of market distrust. The authors’ goal is to raise the awareness of market stakeholders, a category that includes almost everyone, that markets are “good” today, and have been throughout time. By no means is this an “airport” book on management; the reader is challenged to engage in a profound study of human behavior and values.
Moral Markets is edited by Paul Zak of Claremont Graduate University, who is known for his work in neuroeconomics, a transdisciplinary study of how decision making, risk, and trust produce good economic outcomes. The book is organized into five parts: Philosophical Foundations of Values; Nonhuman Origins of Values; The Evolution of Values in Society; Values and the Law; and Values and the Economy.
We are reminded early on that “moral markets” that is, economies where exchange is fair, good, truthful, efficient, and productive are really communities of individuals whose practice of personal responsibility has proven to yield the best possible outcome for society at large. The takeaway is that for the individual, the good life translates to the good life of the community, and it is fueled by individual achievement through the maximization of talents. The authors affirm that moral markets are not only the place where society participates in good exchange, but they also serve as a means for individuals to derive purpose from their life endeavors. They write, “Meaningful human activity is that which intends the good rather than stumbling over it on the way to merely competitive or selfish goals, and the predictable outcome of such behavior is not the mysterious result of an invisible hand but of our own good intentions, amply rewarded.”
Economies ebb and flow because of traditional business cycles. These same economies can shutter and collapse when the morality of their markets is compromised this phenomenon is more evident today than it has been in decades. The future of the economy does not hinge on a dose of public policy or even an infusion of morality. Instead, as Moral Markets asserts, we need to reevaluate the entire spectrum of values and virtues, from the core of the individual to the soul of the society. Moral Markets provides the serious student of business, government, and society with the necessary intellectual tools to reengineer their knowledge and practice of virtue, and perhaps enlighten them on why and how “goodness” ultimately serves society.