Não, o capitalismo não é moral. Mas isto não significa que ele seja imoral. Talvez, se fôssemos obrigados a qualificá-lo como algum adjetivo relativo à idéia de moralidade, poderíamos dizer que ele é amoral. Isto mesmo: AMORAL. Mas o correto mesmo é não imputar qualquer qualificativo de moralidade ao capitalismo. O capitalismo não é um sujeito. Não tem comportamento moral, imoral ou mesmo amoral. O capitalismo é uma ordem técnica. Ele está no campo das relações sociais marcadas por um caráter eminentemente econômico. Por isso que, no capitalismo, nada nunca é moral. O juízo de moralidade é altamente equivocado aqui. O capitalismo é apenas um meio de viver que as sociedades modernas encontraram e abraçaram. Ele é um sistema de técnicas econômicas que privilegia a vontade livre das pessoas na troca de bens em razão de algum interesse; o melhor sistema até hoje criado, aliás. E nunca, absolutamente nunca, poderá ser visto como “sujeito”. Aqueles que criticam o capitalismo de imoralidade geralmente se enrolam nesta “sujeitização” equivocada. E se embananam mais ainda quando tentam colar a pecha de imoral ao capitalismo. Mas fiquem com uma excepcional entrevista com alguns filósofos e economistas que se propuseram a debater e responder a seguinte pergunta: o capitalismo é moral? A entrevista na íntegra está aqui (para assinantes). Recomenda-se também a leitura do clássico “O capitalismo é moral?”, do André Comte-Sponville (Ed. Martins Fontes, 2005).

  

Money Matters

Is Capitalism Moral?
A Conversation
John Gray, Jagdish Bhagwati & Bernard-Henri Lévy, with Stephanie Flanders


 

The John Templeton Foundation recently asked more than a dozen leading scholars and public figures to write short essays responding to the question, “Does the free market corrode moral character?” Templeton also sponsored an event in London on this subject in early December, from which the conversation below is adapted.11. To read the essays or to see a video of the London event, visit www.templeton.org/market.

 

Stephanie Flanders: It is an intriguing moment to discuss whether capitalism is moral or, more broadly, whether it conduces to moral behavior. Had we done so a year ago, we would have been concerned with how the great wealth produced by market economics affects our souls, and how globalization affects poverty and inequality. Today, however, we’re more liable to focus on how the market has affected our wallets and retirement accounts, the ethics of greed before the meltdown, and those of regulation and moral hazard ever since. One has the sense that an entire era of pro-market orientation around the world has ended, and that is certainly a conversation changer.

 

John Gray: Current circumstances are bound to change a conversation about capitalism and morality, but they do not change what is most basic to the question: that all humanly acceptable economic systems make use of human motives that are morally questionable.

 

Classical economics and the liberal theory from which it comes have always understood, going back to the 19th century if not before, that economic systems must harness the strongest human impulses, not merely the most noble ones. So all humanly acceptable economic systems are morally corrosive to some extent simply because they enable selfishness to benefit the selfish, for example. Thus, any position stating that one type of economic system is ethically pure while all the rest are no good is indefensible.

 

That does not mean, however, that all economic systems are morally equivalent. Some economic systems are universally bad. Communist central planning was monstrous because its utopian aspirations demanded too much in terms of human knowledge and motivation; it tried to prohibit one morally questionable impulse, self-interest, through another, coercion. The result was a kind of parody of laissez faire capitalism, with vast corruption, low standards of living, ecological devastation and huge loss of life.

 

But the collapse of communism did not usher in a period of pragmatism and moderation as one might have expected, but rather a new utopian delusion—that of a global free market. Of course the pure free market is like pure communism in that it has never existed and never will exist.

 

Forced to choose between utopias, I would choose the free market variety, for two reasons, one that is obvious and one that perhaps is not. Free market utopianism is bound to be more productive and less destructive of human life—that’s clear. It’s also bound to be more unstable, however. Communism hung around for more than seventy years and destroyed many generations of human beings; the central role of coercion made it morbidly stable. The free market delusion bruited about after the collapse of communism has already ceased to exist. There is no longer a major economy in the world that is a free market economy like that of the United States and Britain even a few months ago.

 

As important, the ideal of such an economy is, as you suggest, eroded. Here is where the crisis is relevant. We now have mixed economies with the state playing a profoundly and increasingly important role. I do not expect in my lifetime any reversion to the kind of economies that existed even a few months ago. The crisis is too large for that and will require too much state intervention.

 

Stephanie Flanders: So where does that leave us? You say that the crisis has brought an end to the Anglo-American free market economies that we had just a few months ago. So is the economy now more moral, or less?

 

John Gray: The underlying moral message of the crisis, it seems to me, is not about capitalism but about utopias. People like utopias. They imagine that utopian thinking embodies a noble human impulse when in fact it has been horribly destructive of human well-being and human freedom. The market fundamentalist utopia that has just come crashing down fed hubris as much as it enabled greed. It promoted a short-sighted snatching after virtual wealth based on pyramids of debt.

 

We should be seeking not a utopia but a realistic arrangement recognizing that all economic systems that work tolerably well will be morally mixed. Which human virtues are assaulted most by any given economic arrangement will depend on time, place and circumstance. The thing to keep in mind always is that economic systems do not create human nature; rather, they provide a context for how it plays out. It is human nature that creates economic systems, and out of the crooked timber of humanity, as Kant put it, nothing straight can be built.

 

Jagdish Bhagwati: Indeed, I have long argued that human nature affects the way we behave in markets far more than markets affect our human nature, and I will return to that important point later. But, as regards the effect of the financial crisis on how we think of markets today, I do not take the apocalyptic view that the crisis has undermined markets and killed for good the “Anglo-Saxon” or, better still, “Anglo-American” embrace of markets. When the dust settles, a saner analysis of what happened will be possible, and will occur for at least two reasons.

 

First, the Anglo-American or Thatcher-Reagan era of “market fundamentalism” was more rhetoric than reality. Neither managed, after all, to reduce the share of public expenditure in GNP. Mrs. Thatcher did take on the socialist embrace of ownership of the means of production and of militant trade unionism, but Britain never shifted to the opposite pole of “market fundamentalism.”

 

Second, the financial crisis underlines not problems with markets generally, but the difference between the non-financial and financial sectors. I have argued that one common factor in recent financial crises had been that financial innovation (such as derivatives and credit default swaps) had gotten ahead of comprehension, so that few realized the huge potential downside of things going wrong. Whereas with manufacturing innovation the problem was one of “creative destruction”—how to prevent Luddite reactions to benign, prosperity-enhancing developments—in the financial sector the problem was one of potential “destructive creation.”

 

But why did this happen? Largely because of a U.S. Treasury-Wall Street complex. Robert Rubin went from Goldman Sachs to the Treasury and then to Citigroup; Henry Paulson went from Goldman Sachs to Treasury and will likely return to Wall Street. This is inevitable: You must understand Wall Street to work with it. But the result was that Wall Street’s euphoria about financial innovation was never effectively challenged by anyone credible. Clearly, then, a lesson of this crisis is that we need truly independent experts who understand Wall Street but are not part of it to be charged with reducing the range of the unknown.

 

As for the effect on the use of markets generally, it would be absurd to think that anyone serious will now oppose freer trade or reject cap-and-trade systems for controlling carbon emissions since it uses the market principle, to take just two examples. I therefore question also John Gray’s view that the end of communism gave rise to a new utopian delusion in the West, that we shifted from the communist utopia to the free-market utopia. If anything, we shifted from that utopian thinking to a more pragmatic approach to markets, for the most part. That is certainly what happened in India and China. These giants had been snoring for three decades and finally woke up because they shifted from crippling “anti-market fundamentalism” to a pragmatic center.

 

Bernard-Henri Lévy: I agree that all the available alternatives to the free market, especially the Marxist one, provided solutions that were worse than the problems they pretended to solve. But the idea of getting rid of the free market, and of attributing to it the moral corrosion of society, was also an idea characteristic of the dirigiste fascist regimes of the 20th century that did such enormous harm. We do not often think about it, but the principle of free exchange, of a free market, affects freedom generally, including the human will to create beauty, to invent and to heal. The murderous command economies of the 20th century produced millions of corpses, but they produced no great art, no great music, no great medical advances.

 

Still this idea, that it is the market that corrupts, has not gone away despite the destruction and cultural sterility it has caused. When the anti-globalization movement claims that market capitalism brings misery, it is just false. These are provincial people, seeing the world only from the Western point of view. They do not go to the places where the market has not yet introduced its principles and its laws and see that these are the places where misery is the deepest. There is no society where people are more greedy, violent and insular than the so-called archaic societies, which are fairly said to be pre-capitalist or pre-market. So clearly, these vices and defects are not invented by the market.

 

Nonetheless, I also agree that the capitalist free market as it has existed in recent years was absolutely unsustainable, and we have now seen this. It has been the reign of greed, or of the Greek philosophical notion of thumos, that of the competitive spirit, which is the expansion of the ego. The free market, according to Hobbes and others, is supposed to create an appreciation for the interests of others. This version of the market instead created a disgusting indifference to the fate of others, especially of the poorest others.

 

Stephanie Flanders: So the system in its recent form was immoral?

 

Bernard-Henri Lévy: I would not put it that way. Markets bring prosperity, but those who ruled the markets in recent decades did not give a damn if they created prosperity. They equated making money with producing wealth, which is not at all the same thing. It was the reign of an utter and unbearable egoism, and we see its remnants still in the psychology of the bailout behavior of Secretary Paulson and his associates. I understand completely the anger of the average American, seeing how investment bankers and hedge fund operators have taken the gains for themselves and managed to socialize the losses. This simultaneous privatization of profit and communalization of losses is a pure scandal. And there has been something really shocking in the way Mr. Paulson has switched his gun from one shoulder to the other, as we say in France, going from a producer of crisis to one who would save us from it. The shoulder changed, but it is the same gun, and the same person is holding it.”

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