Thursday, March 8, 2012

Capitalist Morality versus Socialist Morality


Yevgeny Bugaev in “What is the Party?” writes  capitalism promotes egoistic morality.  It is morality implanted for thousands of years by exploiters. Its essence is individualism, careerism, worship of the moneyed and contempt for penniless. Some of the moral principles of capitalist societies are, “If you do not want to be a slave, try to become a slave-owner”, “dog eat dog”, and “each for himself”. Capitalism cripples people morally and humiliates their dignity.

Socialists or communists promote moral views which express the interests and ideals of all working humankind.  Socialists believe that working man’s nature is originally devoid of loafer, mercenary, and hooligan instincts, and if he nonetheless stumbled and developed traits of an alien morality, he can and must be made to take the right path. We should not overlook petty sins, as they might result in moral degradation.

Is Bugaev Right ?

In his book "Rethinking Capitalism: Community and Responsibility in Business", Rogene Buchholz starts the discussion with following statement.

"Modern capitalism is based upon a philosophy of individualism rather than community, and the moral basis of society is to be found in rights and not in responsibilities. Individuals have a "natural right" to use their property as they see fit and follow their economic self-interest, independent of any obligation or duty to serve society. These rights are possessed by individuals quite apart from any obligation to contribute to the general happiness of society or to an overarching social purpose or good. It was Adam Smith who, whether intended or not, made this feature of capitalistic societies into a virtue with the claim that the pursuit of economic self-interest led to the public good by increasing the wealth of nations through the production of more and more goods and services.

Buchholz adds that Smith, however, did not advocate the pursuit of self interest in a moral vacuum. In The theory of Moral Sentiments, he stress the role of sympathy and benevolence in creating a cohesive society, and it seems clear that Smith assumed that the free pursuit by individuals of their own self-interest would serve the public good only if it occurred in a society that was morally disciplined in this regard.

Alfred Marshall's View

Alfred Marshall in his “Principles of Economics” emphasized that economists were devoted to the well being of whole people. He argued that all the founders of modern economics were men of gentle and sympathetic temper with enthusiasm for the good of humanity. They cared little for wealth for themselves and they cared much for its wide diffusion among the masses of the people. They opposed antisocial monopolies and they supported trade union movement. They supported factory acts and argued against employers. They were without exception devoted to the doctrine that the well-being of the whole people should be the ultimate goal of all private effort and all public policy.
Alfred Marshall added that the rights of property have not been venerated by those master minds who have built up economic science. Some persons have wrongly assumed the authority of the economic science to push the claims of vested interests to extreme and antisocial uses. Economists only say from the observation that rights of property and solid progress are inseparable in the past. The right of property is not based on any abstract principle.


Nature of Man

The discussion on morality naturally leads one to the question on the basic nature of man.

Is he a selfish man?
Is he a compassionate man?

Can he see misery all around him and still enjoy because he is not subjected to the same misery? Or does he feel pain when he sees a pain in a person by the side of him?

I came across this debate in a book on emotions, edited or organized by Daniel Goleman. The book was based on dialogue between psychologists and philosophers. The Dalai Lama was one of the persons in the group of philosophers.
Competing Philosophies
Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jaque Rousseau seem to be the competing philosophies in this regard.
Man is not naturally good, Hobbes claimed, but naturally a selfish hedonist -- "of the voluntary acts of every man, the object is some good to himself".  As human motives were, in their natural state, guided by unenlightened self-interest, these could, if left unchecked, have highly destructive consequences.  Left unrestrained, humans, propelled by their internal dynamics, would crash against each other.  Hobbes tried to envision what society would be like in a "state of nature" -- before any civil state or rule of law.  His conclusion was despiriting: life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short", a "war of every man against every man". 
People in their natural state were "naturally good" and free.  The introduction of private property stirred conflicts.
Discussion on Capitalist Society and Socialist Society in Business Ethics Books
In the book on Business Ethics by Velasquez there is discussion on Capitalism and its criticism by various writers including Marx (covered in more detail). There is also criticism of socialist societies and about the collapse of communism in USSR.

Defence of Capitalism From a Moral Dimension

Robert W. Tracinski
According to Robert W. Tracinski, no one, neither on the left nor the right, is willing to defend capitalism as moral. Thus, both sides agree, whatever the practical value of capitalism, morality requires that the free market be reigned in by government regulations. The only disagreement between the two sides is over the number of regulations and the rate of their growth.

To succeed, the businessman has to have an unwavering dedication to thinking to solve his internal production problems and then in dealing with others. He has to use reason to persuade investors, employees, and suppliers that his venture is a profitable one.

The businessman's dedication to thought, persuasion, and reason is a virtue—a virtue that our lives and prosperity depend on. Capitalism respects this virtue by leaving  the businessman free to act on his own judgment.  The essence of capitalism is that it bans the use of physical force and coercion in men's economic relationships. All decisions are to be left to the "free market"—that is, to the un-coerced decisions of buyers and sellers, manufacturers and distributors, employers and employees. The first rule of capitalism is that everyone has a right to dispose of his own life and property according to his own judgment. In Adam Smith's famous formulation, the rule of capitalism is that every trade occurs "by mutual consent and to mutual advantage."

Only capitalism is fully true to the moral ideal stated in the Declaration of Independence: the individual's right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Only capitalism protects the individual's freedom of thought and his right to his own life.

Only when these ideals are once again taken seriously will we be able to recognize capitalism, not as a "necessary evil," but as a moral ideal.
Ayn Rand
Read a Lecture by David Kelly, "The Capitalist Ideal: The Moral Vision of Atlas Shrugged"
An excerpt from the lecture
Rand held that every person is an autonomous individual, with the moral right to pursue his own happiness. She admired those who embrace the wonderful fact of their own existence and live their lives to the fullest, without guilt or apology. As she put it in the title of a later work, she believed in “the virtue of selfishness.” But her conception of self-interest and egoism is radically different from the conventional picture of selfishness. It is not the kind of grasping, exploitative, attempt to satisfy urges of the moment, or seeking money, sex, and power at any cost. The villain businessmen in Atlas are the ones who fit that picture. Her heroes define their self-interest by achievement, rationality, pride, and justice. In that respect, the moral philosophy of Atlas could just as well be described as the selfishness of virtue.

Building Socialist Morality

Chinese President Hu Jintao  Calls for Building Socialist Morality.

In March 2006, a nationwide morality drive was launched in the form of Hu's list of eight honors and disgraces amid worries that some Chinese people have lost their direction and have blurred the difference between right and wrong during the country's rapid economic development.

The Eight Honors and Disgraces are as follows:

1. Love the country, do it no harm;
2. Serve the people, never betray them;
3. Follow science, discard superstition;
4. Be diligent, not indolent;
5. Be united, help each other, make no gains at others' expense;
6. Be honest and trustworthy, do not sacrifice ethics for profit;
7. Be disciplined and law-abiding, not chaotic and lawless;
8. Live plainly, work hard, do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures.

My search for material related to the topic revealed an institute program focusing on moral foundations of capitalism.

Theory and Practice of Capitalism’s Moral Foundations

The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism will engage in three general areas of activity.

Undergraduate and Graduate Education:
Introduce students to the theory and practice of capitalism

  • Development of courses that will explore the moral, constitutional, legal, economic and political foundations of a free society.
  • Junior Fellows program for undergraduates.

Support research and writing on the theory and practice of capitalism’s moral foundations

  • Institute faculty will engage in academic research resulting in peer-reviewed research.
  • Visiting scholars program that will bring to Clemson nationally- and internationally-recognized faculty to do research and writing on these issues.
  • Conferences on moral, legal, constitutional, political and economic foundations of capitalism.

Community Outreach:
Introduce the general public to the moral principles of capitalism

  • Host week-long camp for high school or college students on the American Founding and the principles of capitalism.
  • Design and implement summer seminars for high school teachers to study the moral foundations of capitalism.



Yevgeny Bugaev, What is the Party?, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1986, pp.245-46
Rogene Buchholz, Rethinking Capitalism: Community and Responsibility in Business, Taylor & Francis, 2009,
Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics, ELBS and Macmillan, Eight Edition, pp.39-40
President Hu calls for building socialist morality

The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism

Related Knol



Rethinking Capitalism: Community and Responsibility in Business, By Rogene Buchholz
Published by Taylor & Francis, 2009, 248 pages
Directory of books on Communism and Marxism
The Moral Psychology of Capitalism by Andreas Saugstad k/ capitalist-morality-versus-socialist-morality, Knol Number 1234

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