Chapter 1: A Prior Ethical Commitment
1. A prior ethical commitment 1.1 INTRODUCTION The protestations of many economists notwithstanding, economics is a moral science. The Adam Smith of An Inquiry Into The Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations was, after all, ﬁrst the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. While the dominant image of Smith is that of an advocate of unfettered self-interest, in fact, the ‘invisible hand’ of Wealth was part and parcel of Smith’s concern with how conscience is formed (Tribe 1999, p. 627). A recurring theme is therefore how the market and other institutions might be structured so as to cultivate the human desire for the sympathetic approval of others. Central to this project is the idea that ‘the market’, the law and other formal and informal institutions can assist in the development of the ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ virtues.1 In effect, the father of economics (Tribe 1999, p. 609) was, ﬁrst and foremost, a moral philosopher. The emergence of institutionless, intendedly value-free neoclassical economic theory meant, inter alia, that many economists either lost sight of, ignored, or rejected the moral foundation of economics. Indeed, the view became prevalent that value-judgments and normative issues generally do not fall under the purview of scientiﬁc, positive economics. This view notwithstanding, it is relatively easy to show that social welfare theory – the theory which informs most economists’ approach to public policy appraisal – is, in fact, a hybrid moral theory (§2.1). Because it is consequentialist, it is a part of the body of goal-based...
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