America's Economic Moralists: A History of Rival Ethics and Economics

Americans have viewed morality in economic life in at least two ways. One highlights personal economic well-being, and the other focuses on social relationships in economic affairs. From the colonial period until the present, these two moral perspectives have lived in constant tension, each appealing to different values that Americans cherish. Using the terms autonomy moralists and relational moralists, Donald Frey, a professor of economics at Wake Forest University, searches American history to see how these two approaches pervade both public policy and private-sector discourse and are woven into a moral fabric that shapes economic activity. An implicit theme lurking in the background suggests that religious moralists are prone to accommodating prevailing cultural values rather than critiquing them.

 

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