Thursday, December 03, 2009

An Impressive Case for Moral Commerce

“Lorenzo” posts a most remarkable, erudite, and trenchant case for commerce over the political, theological, and mythical driving selective conformist attempts at oppression on the Thinking Aloud Blog (HERE)

Speech at the Launch of Richard Morgan’s book Lessons From The Global Financial Crisis"

[If you read nothing else today (or this week), follow the link and enjoy (learn from, perhaps, too). I give three snippets as tasters:]

The moral case for free commerce

"We are here today to launch Richard Morgan’s book, a book that applies C18th wisdom to current circumstances.

One of the great virtues of knowledge of past ideas, is that it forces present thinkers to work harder. Not always an agreeable prospect. Hence the push to define the past as a realm of Stygian moral and intellectual darkness that our present knowing moral splendour has utterly superseded. Thus is current fashionable opinion both elevated and protected.

Yet much that has been paraded in recent decades as allegedly cutting edge thought is little more than ideas from as long ago as the C5th BC re-packaged. Indeterminacy of meaning, for example—which the post-modernists make so much of—was a hot topic for Socrates and the boys. While the politics of Plato’s Republic—with its Platonic Guardians, and their necessary supporting Platonic myths—seems to get endlessly recycled. Judges and international bureaucrats—some of them scientific—are notable current offerings as Platonic Guardians: with supporting Platonic myths from which dissent is, apparently, not to be permitted in polite society.

Against this recycling of the C5th BC, it would be quite an advance if we could get rather more academics and other intellectuals to advance to the standard of some good C18th thinking.

Consider the famous passage by Voltaire in his Letters on the English , first published in 1734.

‘Take a view of the Royal Exchange in London, a place more venerable than many courts of justice, where the representatives of all nations meet for the benefit of mankind. There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together, as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts. There thee Presbyterian confides in the Anabaptist, and the Churchman depends on the Quaker’s word. At the breaking up of this pacific and free assembly, some withdraw to the synagogue, and others to take a glass. This man goes and is baptized in a great tub, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: that man has his son’s foreskin cut off, whilst a set of Hebrew words (quite unintelligible to him) are mumbled over his child. Others retire to their churches, and there wait for the inspiration of heaven with their hats on, and all are satisfied.
Let us consider for a moment how much turgid academic ranting on the allegedly intimate connection between capitalism and bigotry is rendered otiose by this simple observation of what commerce actually means. Commerce does not care for the colour of your skin, your religion, your sex, your sexuality, your ethnicity: what it cares about is the colour of your money. And the worth of your word.

It is politics, with its conjunction of coercion and category – often coercion-by-category – that makes the colour of your skin, your religion, your sex, your sexuality, your ethnicity important, even fatally important. Commerce wants your money and so must, perforce, attend to what you want. Commerce-as-commerce is not interested in any of the vile wars waged by believers—both secular and religious—against human nature as it is in the name of human nature as it is supposed to be. Commerce just wants your money. Preferably again and again. “It is better for me if you are happy with what I do” is practical commerce.’ …

…” The marginal in society are frequently rather better treated by commerce than by politics. A Fortune 500 company is much more likely to acknowledge same-sex relationships than a US State is. The former cares about getting and keeping good staff, and reaching customers. While political and religious entrepreneurs often seek to sell effortless virtue: to sell a sense of unearned self-satisfaction from simply being different to some other group—whites feeling terribly virtuous for not being black, gentiles feeling terribly virtuous for not being Jewish, straights for not being gay, those born and raised Protestant for not being Catholic, or vice versa. And so on. …

…” Long before people talked of the “pink dollar”, there was the Jewish ducat. While women could scale the heights of commerce when they were still formally barred from even the foothills of politics. The first African-American woman to become a millionaire was not Oprah Winfrey, but Madame C. J. Walker, who became a millionaire by 1910: and if you were a millionaire in 1910, you were really a millionaire. She achieved this by selling hair-care products, employing many African-American women in the process, quite deliberately so: no doubt a grave offence against the Equal Opportunity Act—don’t tell Rob Hulls.

When one looks at the denunciations of vulgar merchants and “immoral” commerce, again and again one sees the real complaint is that they attend to what people want, not what the critic thinks people ought to want. That they attend to what people are like, not what people allegedly ought to be like.

To any supporter of a static social order, the restless energy of commerce is a threat. And what social order is more static than one that seeks equality of outcome? The societies that have most raged against commerce have also created some of the most appalling horrors in history, struggling mightily and brutally against what people want.

Indeed, if one wants to establish any bigoted social order, one of the first things one has to do is to restrain commerce. As Thomas Sowell points out, part of the impetus for the Jim Crow laws in the American South was to ensure that a white person buying a first class train ticket did not find themselves sitting next to a black person. For, left to themselves, the railroad companies only cared if you could pay.”

There's much more in similar vein too.

The book to which “Lorenzo” refers is by Richard Morgan (With a Preface from Ian M. McDonald, University of Melbourne):

“Lessons from the Global Crisis: the relevance of Adam Smith on Morality and Free Markets”.

Order it from Amazon or direct to Connor Court Publishing (ISBN: 9781921421273): Price: $19.95 (Australian)

Richard Morgan, with whom I have corresponded and who kindly sent me early drafts of his arguments based on Adam Smith for his book, is an experienced business man and is also engaged in public affairs. He practices what he believes in.

I commend his book to readers.

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Blogger PRODOS said...

Good evening.

I've known Lorenzo for years. An excellent fellow and a darn good scholar.

He often attends the Monday night meetings I organise here in Melbourne and has several times been a presenter.

I've been pestering him to give us a talk on Medieval warfare next year. :-)

I missed the book launch unfortunately, but have now just gone and purchased the book (although the purchasing system at Connorcourt Publishing sure is confusing!)


Best Wishes,


11:03 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Hi Prodos

Yes, I agree that Lorenzo is a good scholar and also an effective stylist in presenting his views.

I am in the early stages of organising a short visit to Australia - mainly to Sydney - and I shall keep you posted if a side-trip to Melbourne becomes possiblee.


4:01 pm  
Blogger Lorenzo said...

Thank you for your very kind words about my speech!

12:06 pm  

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