FAITH & ECONOMICS
NUMBER 76, Fall 2020
Three Ethical Criteria for Evaluating the Humanity of Economic Systems
This paper is part of a symposium organized in cooperation with the AEI Initiative on Faith and Public Life titled: “In the Contemporary United States What Would a Truly Humane Economy Look Like?“
Abstract: This essay proposes three ethical criteria for adjudicating the moral permissibility of any economic system facilitating resource allocation and exchange. The criteria include the capacity of any economic system to safeguard the dignity of autonomous economic action, ensure some baseline standard of material welfare, and promote human flourishing. Each criterion corresponds to a primary strand of normative ethics in the Western philosophical tradition: deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics. Alongside defining each criteria, the essay evaluates whether contemporary mixed-market economic systems satisfy its moral demands. This includes proposing potential innovations to existing market systems, designed to ameliorate their inadequacy in meeting the threshold requirements of each criterion. These potential correctives extend beyond altering the scope of the state’s redistributive and regulatory power in economic life. Of particular interest is the unique role placed by Christianity and religious institutions in inculcating morally conscious behavior among consumers, the principal economic agents shaping the productive and allocative outcomes of market exchange.