Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Mark at FPR speaks of Corporate Capitalism and the Loss of Virtue. I believe that Mark speaks of a genuine problem, but it is the implications of this passage that I find interesting:

"Because of the asymmetry between profits and virtue, a regulatory bureaucracy is erected to make up the difference. Regulations become a substitute for virtue. Of course, as regulations increasingly pressure corporate executives, they will naturally find themselves focusing on the bureaucratic minutia of the regulations rather than on the self-imposed moral probity that virtue requires. Regulations, then, can have the unintended effect of distracting from the cultivation and practice of virtue."

In a sense, this is the argument that I have heard religious believers make against atheists - that without an authority setting the rules and providing punishment for disobedience, people will not seek virtue. I am not saying that Mark holds this position - I don't know if he does or doesn't.

In no small part, it is the definition of virtue that is at issue with corporations. As Mark notes, virtue as defined by Friedman is as follows:

“... there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."

I take Friedman's "social responsibility" to be the equivalent of Mark's virtue. Looked at in that way, most corporations are nearly perfectly virtuous. The complication, of course, comes about in those evil externalities; polution, harmful labor practices, etc.

Any roads, I would be interested in Mark's take on question of atheism and the role of an authority figure.


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