Saturday, August 10, 2013

Morality and Money

I came upon these comments in a notebook. They were written some time ago, but still seem relevant:

Money has always provoked moral debates in which its capacity to corrupt plays a key role. However, over the past forty years or so this kind of debate has itself been corrupted. Ideas that created money’s reprehensible image seem to have been either abandoned or turned on their head.
            Unfettered pursuit of money simply for its own sake, exclusive use of monetary sums to calibrate values and social status, the flaunting of wealthy attributes, conspicuous consumption of luxury goods, vast disparities in both assets and income as between individuals within the same community, avid avoidance of taxes, and the assumption of large debt are somehow no longer obvious causes for moral concern.
“Somehow” is a vague term. But, ambiguity is appropriate here. For it is difficult to pin down when and why such sea change in moral perception occurred. One of the main reasons for this is that the process of uncoupling of money from morality has been deeply obscured by the fog of financial innovation. It is tempting, therefore, to put the causal blame on finance theory, and that insidious constellation of views has certainly been highly influential. However, to do this would be to invoke a separation between theory and practice that does not exist. It is a great irony that the longstanding leftist project of aligning theory with practice has already been accomplished by what can best be called, with still further irony, the finance community. But, what is this community?
It is a loose collection of financial institutions and the clients they are supposed to serve. This is held together by economic and political beliefs that yield both a sense of immunity to ordinary moral scrutiny and, strangely, a sense of moral accomplishment in being able to do the very things that such immunity allows.

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