Daedalus 142:2 (Spring 2013) - American Democracy and the Common Good

Daedalus 142:2 (Spring 2013) - American Democracy and the Common Good
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He argues that subjecting these types of human needs to the market demeans them and corrupts their value and by extension our basic humanity. To allow a market in substitute jury members would demean the nature of the civic responsibility of citizenship.

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Yet more and more goods are becoming subject to commercialization. Economists see this as a simple maximizing of utility. According to market economics if a person freely wants to sell a kidney and another person freely wants to buy one, social utility is maximized if they are free to make such a bargain. But, this assumes that both parties have equal economic power while the reality is that the wealthy will tend to be buyers and the poor, sellers. Sandel sees a corrupting influence even in something as innocuous as skyboxes at baseball games. He sees such commercialization as eroding commonality and with it the mixing of social classes, rich and poor, common and elite, that is important for democracy and social cohesion.

He concludes: Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, in the course of everyday life. For that is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good. The marketization of all aspects of our culture demeans and debases those elements of our communal lives that should be honored and respected.

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The market mentality, the calculus of economic efficiency seeks only efficiency and utility. An economist would ask: If someone cares deeply about an issue in the realm of public policy that is subject to the ballot process and another is indifferent why not allow the interested party to purchase the vote of the indifferent?

But voting is about more than simple economic utility; it is about coming together as a society and reasoning about the difficult definition of the common good, about each having an equal say in creating the public interest, and about sharing the burdens and the benefits. Of course, we should seek efficient and cost effective answers to our problems and of course, the market, in many cases, is a valuable tool in assessing value and allocating resources.

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But, we must remember that economics and the market are merely tools to be used, not arbiters of truth in the complex and messy realm of human affairs. The public interest is as complex as our society, and its definition is a political matter. As a political matter, it is driven by cultural tides that change over time and with changing social dynamics.

As abhorrent as that now appears, it illustrates the social and cultural context of the idea of the public interest. In our current society, the market has ascended to assert control over the debate and direction of the public interest.

~ The Truth Shall Set You Free

These businesses were by necessity small and of limited scale. Die deutsche Koalitionsdemokratie vor der Bundestagswahl pp. Vizard, Polly Specifying and justifying a basic capability set: should the international human rights framework be given a more direct role? Times Literary Supplement. Nuclear Physics A, - ,

Our modern culture imbues the market with almost mystical power to allocate resources and value, and we evaluate policy decisions on the basis of economic efficiency and costs. Further, the rationale for this market orientation is that it has created economic growth and prosperity, but upon closer examination it is evident that the growing prosperity is not widely or equally shared and that its very value is suspect. Income and wealth are not linearly correlated to happiness, and materialism may be noxious to well-being. By measuring value in purely economic terms, do we mis-value and even demean those human values that make communal life worthwhile and that foster a notion of the common good?

I close with those words as well because they so eloquently and powerfully capture the inability of economic measures to truly reflect what is important, what is in the public interest.

Our GNP, he says, counts the objective, tangible elements of our economy even if they are, or result from, noxious sources while our best human qualities are ignored: Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials….

Kennedy, In the essays that follow, I will argue that the current dominant economic paradigm of neo-liberal capitalism does not serve the public interest. I will then discuss alternative economic systems and their efficacy. It is altogether reasonable to ask if the economic system extant serves that purpose. In this essay, I trace the evolution of capitalism, the dominate contemporary American economic system, from its Enlightenment beginnings to its current neo-liberal manifestation, along the way defining its evolutionary varieties, their cultural context, their shortcomings, and benefits.

Neo-liberalism is the variety of capitalism that, among other attributes, focuses on maximizing shareholder wealth in an open market system characterized by limited government regulation, taxation, and spending on social welfare. Neo-liberalism focuses on self-interest, emphasizing property rights and seeking to privatize public services. I then propose a framework from which to judge the ability of neo-liberalism to serve the public interest. Namely, does it maximize prosperity, respect freedom, and cultivate virtue? I examine each of these elements in turn and conclude that neo-liberalism does not serve the public interest.

Specifically, many noxious consequences are, if not caused, at least correlated, exacerbated, or enabled by the tenets of neo-liberalism. I then examine the morality of capitalism, finding little support for such a notion from the perspective of Kantian or Ralwsian philosophy while also finding the property rights argument of Nozick to be unpersuasive. Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone. Under capitalism, man exploits man.

Under communism, it's just the opposite.

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My objective in this essay is similar: Does neo-liberal capitalism serve the public interest? Look at the prosperity it has created. As discussed in Essay 1, in modern America the public interest, a political issue, is increasingly focused on market economics and materialism. In this essay, I trace the evolution of capitalism, the market ideology that shapes the materialist public interest. Capitalism is the economic engine that provides the prosperity that has allowed materialism to become central to American society.

Capitalism has many variations, with varying economic and social implications. Its current manifestation, neo-liberal capitalism, evolved from its post-Enlightenment beginnings to become a form of capitalism that focuses on the primacy of the market, on profit and wealth accumulation, on deregulation, on the marginalization of unions, on limited taxation, and on limited government provided welfare services. I argue that contrary to the claims of its proponents, neo-liberal capitalism is neither morally just nor economically efficient and is, therefore, antithetical to the public interest.

In this essay, I discuss some of those outcomes that are hostile to the common good. Jerry Muller in The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought, points out, capitalism is a relatively modern term first used by Karl Marx, in the pejorative, as a description for a market based economy. Douglas Rea of Yale University would add an economic dimension, modifying this definition with the observation that under capitalism, the objective is to create wealth in order to subsequently create additional wealth Rea, , Lecture 1.

Muller also notes that his definition has political as well as economic implications since private property and the notion of free individuals have political connotations. Moreover, the nuance added by Rea implies an objective element, opening the question to what end do we expect our economic system to lead. These simple facts indicate that the parameters of capitalism are variegated and that the types of capitalist systems may vary based on those parameters.

Within, or perhaps, surrounding each of these descriptions is the interaction with the state and the objective of the public interest. These parameters are most salient for this discussion and as one would expect when the notion of the public interest is involved, the results are political and fluid over time. In fact, Katetsky, a contemporary business executive and commentator on economics and finance, identifies four mega-periods in the evolution of capitalism. In this view, Capitalism 1.

go site Capitalism 2. Capitalism 3. For purposes of this dissertation, we will be interested in the political and sociological implications of capitalism in each of these periods. In the age of Capitalism 1. This opposition relates to tax burden as well as regulatory burden thus this was a golden age of small government, free markets, and consequently little or no social services by governments.

In the era of Capitalism 2. Welfare capitalism as practiced in Western Europe is a topic covered in great depth in Essay 5.

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Neo-liberalism is a return to Capitalism 1. In this ideology, government regulation, taxes and spending are considered inefficient and counterproductive. Thus Capitalism 1. Capitalism 1. This essay will examine these claims closely from a number of perspectives. The term neo-liberalism derives from the classical concept of liberalism meaning individual political freedom and civil liberty under a rule of law that emphasizes free, self-regulating market economics with minimal involvement of the state.

Liberal in this economic meaning is akin to laissez-faire and should not be confused with the American connotation of liberal in the political sense as in many ways they are diametrically opposed. In order to keep these concepts separate, throughout these essays I will refer to American political liberalism as progressive rather than liberal.


The neo prefix in neo- liberalism connotes a return to laissez-faire principles and a repudiation of the interventionist and redistributive ideals of welfare capitalism Sparke, Neo-liberalism, like other varieties of capitalism is not the deliberate brainchild of a particular political or economic actor. Rather it is an evolutionary construct of academic, political, cultural, and socioeconomic practices.

David Harvey of the City University of New York, in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism defines it as: a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well- being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. The state has to guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money.

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Furthermore, if markets do not exist… then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the state should not venture. State interventions in markets once created must be kept to a bare minimum because, according to the theory, the state cannot possibly possess enough information to second-guess markets signals prices and because powerful interest groups will inevitably distort and bias state interventions particularly in democracies for their own benefit. Harvey, , p.

The arguments in favor of neo-liberalism stress its fundamental values to be the primacy of individual freedom and liberty, concepts that resonant particularly well with Americans. Chapter 1. The triumph of the United States militarily and politically was also a victory for capitalism and evidence in support of the American narrative of exceptionalism. The language of capitalism is therefore bathed in presumptive righteousness and the language of its alternatives is bathed in a presumptive pejorative connotation.

For many in America, capitalism is synonymous with democracy, freedom, and the good life while socialism conjures images of totalitarianism and economic and political subjugation and suffering. Neo-liberalism also shares much of its ideology with the globalization movement. In its business management manifestation, neo-liberalism is often called shareholder value or shareholder value capitalism and I will use those terms interchangeably as we explore the evolution of capitalism. Specifically, shareholder value capitalism is concerned with an unrelenting focus on profit maximization and wealth accumulation.

It too, promotes deregulation of business and minimal state involvement in the economy including minimal tax and spending. As its name implies, shareholder value capitalism views the interests of shareholders of a business to be paramount to the interests of any other constituency such as employees or customers or even the common good Martinez, Neo-liberal proponents argue that it is a moral ideology on two levels. The second argument for the morality of neo-liberal capitalism is a deontological one meaning an argument based on the duties and inherent rights of human beings.

Morality then flows from free transactions between free individuals who readily accept the consequences of their actions. If a person demands the state should regulate the market or demand reparations to the unfortunate who has been caught at the losing end of a freely initiated market transaction, this is viewed as an indication that the person in question is morally depraved and underdeveloped…. Is neo-liberalism really the best and most efficient system for creating prosperity? Are the positive consequences of economic growth attributable to neo-liberalism or some other factor?

When neo-liberals measure and claim maximum social utility, do they include all of the problematic and harmful consequences of neo-liberalism as well?