Economists have always presumed that economic behavior is based on individual and collective value choices, but it is likewise presumed that these choices are essentially materialistic in that they seek to maximize selfishly defined social and personal utility above any other consideration. Our current economic system reflects this presumption by seeking to maximize productivity and short-term profitability over all other considerations. This paper examines and supports the thesis that economic activity actually presupposes an (often unacknowledged) underlying morality of a more fundamental sort, a morality deriving from the value choices we make about the most basic aspects of human relationships and human existence: trustworthiness, truthfulness, cooperation, suffering, compassion, etc. In the light of this thesis, it is seen that both capitalism and socialism are morally defective, though in somewhat different ways. Capitalism is based on the desire for constantly increasing consumption and leads to unbridled (indeed exponential) increases in production, but only as long as certain conditions are met (e.g., a ready supply of raw materials, a constantly expanding market, etc.). Capitalism also leads to morally unacceptable extremes in the distribution of wealth (and thus of the fruits of production). Socialism seeks to place a higher value on satisfying the needs of all before gratifying the desires of a few, but it lacks an adequate incentive to production and often leads to morally unacceptable coerciveness. Both of these systems are compared with the Bahá’í system, which seeks to link economic activity directly and explicitly with its underlying morality. This is accomplished by stressing the primality of the spiritual function of work—the healthy actualization of the higher capacities of the self through service to and cooperation with others—over the purely material function. The Bahá’í system combines certain elements of both socialism and capitalism with other novel features, and is seen to constitute a truly practical solution to current economic problems. Thus, the crassly pragmatic morality underlying current economic systems is, in the final analysis, less practicable than the morality on which the Bahá’í system is based, while Bahá’í morality is more idealistic but ultimately more satisfactory.
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Copyright © 1989 William S. Hatcher