Taming the beast

In the compelling story of capitalism the protagonist is the free individual who willingly exchanges his or her stuff for other people’s stuff. The land of capitalism is a kind of peaceable kingdom in which the wolf and the lamb meet voluntarily in the marketplace to engage in fair competition. Even this whimsical image suggests, however, that capitalism depends upon prior rules of what is acceptable and what is not. Without some prohibition against violence, the wolf could simply eat the lamb for lunch. Adam Smith, the great moral philosopher and founder of classical economics, tells us that the market requires a moral-legal foundation. “Justice,” he writes, “is the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice” of society, including the economy.

 

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