Neoliberal ‘ethics’

26 Sep, 2017 at 13:20 | Posted in Politics & Society | 3 Comments

As we all know, neoliberalism is nothing but a self-serving con endorsing pernicious moral cynicism. But it’s still sickening to read its gobsmacking trash, maintaining that unregulated capitalism is a ‘superlatively moral system’:

neo The rich man may feast on caviar and champagne, while the poor woman starves at his gate. And she may not even take the crumbs from his table, if that would deprive him of his pleasure in feeding them to his birds.

David Gauthier Morals by Agreement

Now, compare that unashamed neoliberal apologetics with what two truly great economists and liberals — John Maynard Keynes and Robert Solow — have to say:

The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes … I believe that there is social and psychological justification for significant inequalities of income and wealth, but not for such large disparities as exist to-day.

John Maynard Keynes General Theory (1936)

4703325Who could be against allowing people their ‘just deserts?’ But there is that matter of what is ‘just.’ Most serious ethical thinkers distinguish between deservingness and happenstance. Deservingness has to be rigorously earned. You do not ‘deserve’ that part of your income that comes from your parents’ wealth or connections or, for that matter, their DNA. You may be born just plain gorgeous or smart or tall, and those characteristics add to the market value of your marginal product, but not to your deserts. It may be impractical to separate effort from happenstance numerically, but that is no reason to confound them, especially when you are thinking about taxation and redistribution. That is why we want to temper the wind to the shorn lamb, and let it blow on the sable coat.

Robert Solow Journal of Economic Perspectives (2014)


  1. To me, Keynes’s assumption that full employment should be a goal of public policy is neoliberal, because it accepts the idea that labor must be exchanged before it can have value. I prefer to work on my own projects without being accountable to some profit-maximizing boss who wants to control access to my work. I am irrational, I suppose, by even Keynes’s and Solow’s assumptions, because I do not want to restrict access to anything I might produce. I do not want to sell anything. Thus I am outside of neoliberalism; I do not let neoliberalism define me. I believe public policy should support and encourage such agents as myself who act wholly irrationally by neoliberal assumptions. I bet we can come up with better technology faster than all the neoliberal profit-maximizing corporations, because technology is about breakthroughs in thought and those advances are essentially disconnected from exchange value and profit motives …

  2. Let’s not be hypocritical: government insurance of private liabilities, including PRIVATELY CREATED LIABILITIES was foisted on us BY PROGRESSIVES.

    And, in my experience, it is Progressives who are most opposed to removing privileges from the banks.

    So it appears that Progressives are the most opposed to eliminating systematic theft from the poor, the least so-called credit worthy.

  3. Or as I’ve started to say, Social value is different to market value.

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