Human societies swing like a pendulum, back-and-forth, between autonomy and authority. Our love for autonomy has created self-managed teams and self-governed societies, even as our penchant for authority has given rise to monarchies, oligopolies and governmental power.
A free market is an expression of autonomy. In a free market, people have no barriers to solve each other’s problems. A business, the cellular entity of a free market, solves a problem in return for profit. So long as people willingly part with their money to be rid of their problems, profit is a sign of benevolence.
However, markets have their dark side. They have what economists call ‘externalities’ – a fancy word for side effects. One of these side effects is that the market corrupts, to varying degrees, anything it trades in. A free market for child adoption might be an efficient solution but not an effective one, for children being traded in a market would undermine the essence of childhood or human life.
Any authoritarian system believes that society’s problems are best solved by central planning and decision making. If free markets are an expression of autonomy, regulation is an expression of authority. The right amount of regulation – enough to keep the markets in check – is benevolent. Too much regulation is just another form of authoritarian violence.
Both markets and regulation can help us create benevolent societies. But both these entities can just as easily do the opposite. We humans tend to swing back and forth because we refuse to have a discussion about what a benevolent society looks like.
And that is where morals come in.
Inspiration: The Moral Limits of Markets