Economics Among the Virtues

Some virtues deliver the economic goods, like courage in entrepreneurship and charity’s role in building social capital. But virtuous people don’t pursue virtues for profit. They do so because virtues are choiceworthy for their own sake. And the market? It takes an ambivalent view towards virtue but also reveals our actual preferences, even our vicious ones. Yet because even the vicious see the monetary rewards for some virtues, the marketplace can be a schoolhouse for virtue. These results are what we can call direct effects of economics and the virtues. There are indirect effects, too. For example, generous bankruptcy laws, from a virtuous concern for the downcast, actually encourage some economically beneficial risk-taking, like starting a business. Laws governing the marketplace also say something about our views of human potential and also about our appreciation of human frailty, or lack thereof. Finally, markets can encourage both virtues and vices by providing new and unexpected apprenticeships therein.

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