I recently traveled to Jacksonville State University in the small, north Alabama town of Jacksonville. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies hosted a debate between Dr. Mike Munger of Duke University and Dr. James Stoner of Louisiana State University. The debate was titled, “Is there a moral basis for a free market?”
Dr. Munger took the stance that capitalism promotes virtue, and makes it all the more possible for an individual to practice virtue freely. He touched on the vitality of contracts within a market-based civilization. Dr. Stoner, on the other hand, argued “men are not angels” and need a government to promote and protect virtue since justice cannot be bought or sold.
Both professors demonstrated valid arguments for their respective views.
Dr. Munger wondered aloud why one is able to donate a kidney but not able to sell it. He reminded the audience that when someone donates a kidney they are considered a “good person,” but if that same person attempts to sell a kidney, they are “evil.”
Dr. Stoner opined that commercialization destroys relationships and a capitalist society cannot promote a virtuous friendship.
The debate boiled down to this: can virtue be advanced through the individual in the marketplace or an active government? I believe that we live in a country where the government cannot promote virtue because they do not understand virtue. Of course, if the government made up by the people cannot promote virtue, then a capitalist society of individuals cannot do it either. The issue is not the system, but that the foundation we have built upon is lacking in virtue and rotten. We live in a society where people read Fifty Shades of Grey and not the Summa Theologica. How can we promote virtue if we do not even understand simple morality?