Member Rara Avis
Ron -- under what conditions may we separate economics from morality? and.. why should we?
A work ethic is a moral concern.
I think ethics and morality are two very different things, Reb, and what we generally mean by "work ethic" really doesn't fall under either umbrella. Being willing to give an honest day's labor for an honest day's pay doesn't necessarily make someone either ethical or moral. It simply makes them a desirable (and increasingly rare) economic resource. The differences between ethics and morality, however, is probably best reserved for another thread.
Economics and morality need to be separated for the same reasons I believe politics and morality need to be separated. Economics and politics are social issues, both of which must be made to work in a diverse moral landscape. It's a macro versus micro set of issues, because morality is personal, not social. If we are to live together, it won't be by homogenizing our individual morality, but rather by effectively ignoring the differences within our social institutions.
In a competitive environment even a person with a strong work ethic can come in second. Second is a losing position. We have a winner takes all system. VHS/Beta. Bill Gates/Steve Jobs.
I think that's only true, Reb, in a non-Smithean system. Steve Jobs may have lost to Bill Gates (if you call being a multi-millionaire instead of a multi-billionaire losing), but there are also tens of thousands, and probably more like thousands of thousands, of people riding the coattails of Gate's victory. Everyone who works for Microsoft wins, too. Everyone who supplies Microsoft wins. Everyone who owns stock in Microsoft wins. Everyone who supplies the workers or vendors or stockholders of Microsoft wins. And that doesn't even begin to count the huge number of people who buy Microsoft products and use them to make money otherwise independent of the money chain that began with Gates.
The winner definitely does NOT take all, but rather spreads the wealth throughout the whole of society.
Shift the analogy from food to freedom for a moment:
I'm not sure that's a fair shift, Jim, because I don't think any society in all of history has had to buy a measure of freedom. Fight for it, sure, work like Hades to maintain it, absolutely, but freedom simply isn't a commodity item that can be bought or sold. Freedom exists and only needs to be claimed. A standard of living, on the other hand, is something that must be earned.
Sooooo Brad, my point was merely that Ron's solution hasn't proven to be a solution in the large scale.
Sadly, no, it hasn't, Karen. The question I think we should be asking, however, and one I alluded to when I said it would quickly become a moral issue when the have-nots on one side of the city tried to work for the have-alls on the other side of the city, is WHY it hasn't worked on a large scale.
Money, it's often said, doesn't grow on trees. It requires an expenditure of resources, and the only way the money will stay on only one side of the city is if the rich purposely prevent it from leaving. In the absence of artificial barriers, at least some of the money, and usually a great portion of it, will spread throughout the whole economic system. The rich need their lawns mowed, their commodes cleaned, their food cooked, their dogs walked and their babies sat. The poor will survive, and a few of the more industrious poor will organize other poors so well they will end up eventually moving to the other side of the city. In a pure economic system it's as inevitable as day following night.
Trouble is, on the large scale Karen sites, there has never been a pure economic system.
The rich always try to raise artificial barriers to protect their wealth. THAT, I think, is when we enter the arena of what is right and wrong (avoiding the more personal issues of morality). In my opinion, there is nothing immoral about being fat and sassy while others are going to bed hungry. Buying less food at the grocery store isn't going to help feed the poor, it's only going to add some farmer to the list of the poor because you refused to buy his produce. On the other hand, being fat and sassy and wasteful is intrinsically wrong if you are simultaneously preventing others from enjoying at least the opportunity to share in the wealth.
Let's extend Reb's question just a bit.
Let's pretend the city is a really big one comprising most of North America, the rich on one side, poor on the other, and running down the middle of our hypothetical city is a river called the Rio Grande.
If you REALLY want to help the poor, you should advocate lowering all the artificial barriers that have been erected to keep them out of the rich side of the city. Let them cross the river, with no qualifications beyond desire, and let them work for the same living that you and I have enjoyed. They can succeed or fail based entirely on merit, not on rules erected to protect the wealthy. If we lower the barriers, the money WILL flow throughout the combined economic community. Guaranteed.
I think in ANY community of have-nots and have-alls, you'll find a river running down the middle of the city. It might not be called the Rio Grande, of course. It might be called education, it might be a union, it might be gender or race, it might be language or culture. The one thing it always has in common, however, is that it's artificial and always serves to protect the wealthy.
Capitalism works. We just usually won't let it work too well.