(T)he economist frequently finds himself in disagreement in regard to means with those with whom he is in agreement with regard to ends; and in agreement in regard to means with those whose views regarding ends are entirely antipathetic to him – men who have never felt the urge to reconstruct the world and who frequently support the forces of stability only for reasons of selfishness. In such a situation, it is perhaps inevitable that he should become the object of dislike and suspicion.Friedrich von Hayek (1933). The Trend of Economic Thinking, p 136-137
Thinking that the invisible hand of the market eliminates the need for ethical conduct in business is like thinking that the competitive structure of sport eliminates the need for good sportsmanship. The market is not a free-for-all, any more than a competitive team sport is. Making a profit is the goal of business in the same way that winning is the goal of competitive sport. But the point is not to achieve this goal by any means possible; it is to achieve it in a fair and honest way.Joseph Heath (2007). An Adversarial Ethic for Business: or, When Sun-Tzu Met the Stakeholder, p 369
The neighbourhood that is constructed by our relations with distant people is something that has pervasive relevance to the understanding of justice in general. … We are linked with each other through trade, commerce, literature, language, music, arts, entertainment, religion, medicine, health-care, politics, news reports, media communication and other ties. … No theory of justice can ignore the whole world except our own country.Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (2009), p 172-173
There are few non-neighbours left in the world today.
An identity of being ‘on the left’ has become a lazy way of feeling morally superior; an identity of being ‘on the right’ has become a lazy way of feeling ‘realistic’. … The morally meritocratic elite of the left vied with the productively meritocratic elite of the right. The superstars of the left became the very good; those of the right became the very rich.Paul Collier (2018). The Future of Capitalism, p 22, 15
When the Irish were illiterate and the Italians superstitious, a masterful state seemed to make sense.Deirdre McCloskey (2019). Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All, p 14
Look, for example, at V.S. Naipaul’s great novel of economic development, A House for Mr. Biswas. … (M)easured by the cultural distance between Mr. Biswas’s parents and his children, his life is a story of amazing progress. …Robert Lucas (2002). Lectures on Economic Growth, p 16
Biswas himself is no Horatio Alger figure. His talents are modest, and his willingness to ingratiate himself with those who might advance his career is nonexistent. He passes from one mediocre, limited job to another. But his unwillingness to accept the limits of each current situation as permanent, to make the best of it, turns out to be his strength. Through all his misfortunes and setbacks Mr. Biswas is able to maintain the sense of himself as a man with possibilities, with options, a man who is in a position to set limits what he will put up with. And equally important, he lives in a society that will let him survive with this attitude. An African slave with these attitudes, working the same sugar cane fields as Biswas’s father and brothers did, would have been beaten to death, or starved as an outcast … But in the Trinidad of the interwar and World War II periods, options were available.
It is sometimes said that “knowledge is power”. Hayek showed that a strong reading of this claim – that knowledge and power always go together – is profoundly false. While knowledge often confers power, the reverse is not true. Centralizing power over an economy, or any other large-scale cooperative system, does nothing to centralize knowledge of how that system works or could be made to work better. Knowledge remains dispersed, being passed around in small quantities by people’s ability to signal to each other, through prices. In a working economy, nobody knows everything but everybody knows something. And things work best when it’s kept that way.Daniel Halliday and John Thrasher (2020). The Ethics of Capitalism. An Introduction, p 66
Rational recognition of the economic performance of capitalism and of the hopes it holds out for the future would require an almost impossible moral feat by the have-not. That performance stands out only if we take a long-run view; any pro-capitalist argument must rest on long-run considerations. In the short run, it is profits and inefficiencies that dominate the picture. … In order to identify himself with the capitalist system, the unemployed of today would have completely to forget his personal fate and the politician of today his personal ambition.Joseph Schumpeter (1943). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, p 129-130
Games give players the feeling that their labor is valuable, that their contributions to the world are important and meaningful. This feeling doesn’t happen very often in real-life work, where most of the time you’re more of a non-playable character than a protagonist.Bijan Stephen (2021). Side Quest
A protagonist has agency in their own life. Employment, at least in America, is designed to take away agency; the lack of a social safety net and a robust welfare state mean you are always one catastrophe away from losing whatever you’ve worked to build, which makes work far more important than it should be. In America, your job is your identity, your lifeline, and your purpose—unless you’re part of this country’s ruling class, in which case your work is immaterial. If labor were valued more highly, life might look a little more like a game. One that any player might win.
(S)ocial attitudes toward production and work (and leisure) are another major factor in determining the likelihood of innovation. Technologically progressive societies were often relatively egalitarian ones. In societies dominated by a small, wealthy, but unproductive and exploitative elite, the low social prestige of productive activity meant that creativity and innovation would be directed toward an agenda of interest to the elite. The educated and sophisticated elite focused on efforts supporting its power such as military prowess and administration, or on such topics of leisure as literature, games, the arts, and philosophy, and not so much on the mundane problems of the farmer in his field, the sailor on his ship, or the artisan in his workshop. The agenda of the leisurely elite was of great importance to the lovers of music in the eighteenth-century Habsburg lands, but was not of much interest to their farmers and manufacturers. The Austrian Empire created Haydn and Mozart, but no Industrial Revolution.Joel Mokyr (2017). A Culture of Growth. The Origins of the Modern Economy, p 17
A merchant is accustomed to employ his money chiefly in profitable projects, whereas a mere country gentleman is accustomed to employ it chiefly in expence. The one often sees his money go from him and return to him again with a profit; the other, when once he parts with it, very seldom expects to see any more of it. Those different habits naturally affect their temper and disposition in every sort of business. A merchant is commonly a bold, a country gentleman a timid undertaker. […] The habits, besides, of order, economy and attention, to which mercantile business naturally forms a merchant, render him much fitter to execute, with profit and success, any project of improvement.Adam Smith (1776). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book III, ch 4
Economic activity is at the same time a means of want-satisfaction, an agency for want- and character-formation, a field of creative self-expression, and a competitive sport. While men are “playing the game” of business, they are also moulding their own and other personalities, and creating a civilization whose worthiness to endure cannot be a matter of indifference.Frank H. Knight (1923). The Ethics of Competition, p 587
The early 20th century was an era of building, in the broadest sense, from universities to government agencies to cities to highways. The by-product of building is maintenance, and we haven’t figured out how to meta-maintain — to avoid emergent sclerosis in the stuff we build.Patrick Collison (2021). Interview met Noah Smith.
Personally, I’ve never met a person who was evil in the classic Hollywood mode, who throws down happily on the side of evil while cackling, the sworn enemy of all that is good because of some early disillusionment. Most of the evil I’ve seen in the world – most of the nastiness I’ve been on the receiving end of (and, for that matter, the nastiness I, myself, have inflicted on others) – was done by people who intended good, who thought they were doing good, by reasonable people, staying polite, making accommodations, laboring under slight misperceptions, who haven’t had the inclination or taken the time to think things through, who’ve been sheltered from or were blind to the negative consequences of the belief system of which they were part, bowing to expedience and/or “commonsense” notions that have come to them via their culture and that they have failed to interrogate.George Saunders (2021). A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading and Life), p 292-293 (ht Erwin K)
The … issue is the competence with which the state discharges its economic functions. Does regulation of railway rates keep them at proper levels? Does review of new stock issues protect the investor from loss? Does review of the truthfulness of advertisements protect consumers? Does the federal mediation service reduce the frequency or duration of strikes? Will the review of new drugs save human lives?George Stigler (1975). The Citizen and the State. Essays on Regulation, p. 10
I ask you to believe a strange thing. No one knows the answer to questions of this sort. At most only a tiny set of policies have been studied with even moderate care. The conservative has not found it necessary to document his charges of failure, nor the liberal to document his claims of success.