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An important aspect of the so-called model of Social Market Economy is the role that its fathers assigned to reflection on the relationship between ethics and economics. The German economist Alfred Müller-Armack, in his essay The Moralist and the Economist: On the Question of the Humanization of the Economy, (The Social Market Economy and Its Enemies, F. Forte – F. Felice – C. Forte eds., Rubbettino, 2012), takes on the possible dialogue between scholars of moral theories and economic scientists, suggesting the need for a synthesis that can respond to the conceptual needs of both.
In short, Müller-Armack does not theorize about the ethics of rigid disciplinary segregation, or even a vague interdisciplinarity, which are two “enemies” on the methodological front, from which the German economist will take quite a distance.
That is to say, in terms of the relationship between ethics and economics, we can consider two main approaches: the first can be called “ethics of the addition” and a second, “ethics of substitution.” In the first case, one would not do anything other than juxtapose and add questions of deontology to the classic “arsenal” of the discipline one intended to moralize. In the second case, it is believed that the presence of a moral element involves the reduction of that “arsenal,” inasmuch as ethics would be in contradiction with ordinary economic action. Both approaches support the contention that the ethical prospective would be, respectively, either an accessory or a real alternative, with respect to the economic dimension. Ultimately, both share a notion of ethics as a set of rules and prohibitions, a deontological code of ethics which is a must, or should be useful to follow. On the other hand, Müller-Armack and, more generally, the perspective of the social market economy seems timely in proposing a “transdisciplinary” approach that neither juxtaposes nor replaces ethical questions with economic ones, confusing one with another in an impersonal way. Rather, they propose an approach to economic issues across disciplines, in their common object: homo agens. They also bind together the issues identified as relevant on the basis of a declared anthropological perspective – the ontological, methodological and moral centrality of the human person – and therefore propose that an ideal society is characterized by the principles of freedom and justice. In short, this method is able to grasp the mutual influence which each discipline can exert on the other, in relation to their common object: the person.
For this reason, the very idea of a social market economy has become the ideal perspective around which, in the aftermath of World War II, a group of social scientists found themselves organized. They belonged to the liberal circles who had opposed the rise of totalitarianism in Germany – the archenemy – which was implemented by politicians who believed that the post-war reconstruction would have to go through a “regeneration of the idea of competition,” until the humiliating moment of the centralized management of the economic processes. The search for a new “order” in the eyes of these intellectuals and politicians who set themselves the goal of putting into practice the theory of “Ordo”, resulted in an attempt to create a sort of competition through which the needs of the market economy could be reconciled with those of a general well-being.
Therefore, in order to be able to speak concretely of civil progress, it is necessary to compare this progress with the efficiency of our political institutions and economic relations (such as infrastructure, transportation, energy), as well as financial institutions that should ensure the optimal use of savings. All of this requires large sums of money that only a prosperous market economy is able to provide. In contrast, the economic scientist, entrepreneur and politician must think in a global and multidimensional way; they must demonstrate that they know how to take responsibility at various levels in the face of the foreseeable consequences of their choices in political, economic and financial fields, and to react adequately in the face of still present unintended consequences. Economists, businessmen and politicians, even without denying the functionality of the economic laws that they are required to implement, can never neglect the moral perspective. Together with the moral experts they must always tend towards an institutional solution that can meet the demands of social justice, personal freedom and democratic formation of a political consensus.
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