Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wall Street Greed, Economics, and Society

Economics is only one of the fields of social science. It seems greed and self-interest in our society, are being examined solely within the realm of economics, completely ignoring that there are many other social forces at work.

Social norms and mores are incredibly powerful and greatly influence behavior within societies at all times. Group dynamics and acceptable norms can override economic self-interest.

There is almost no mention of moral relativism and the degradation of using social pressure to enforce norms. As John Bogle noted in his books, "Enough", and "Fight for the Soul of Capitalism", it used to be that managers had a sense of duty towards the owners. Likewise, people didn't take advantage of government programs unless they had to, many felt ashamed to take charity and would do their best to avoid the welfare label. It seems the shame of managers enriching themselves and dependence upon public charity has eroded to the point where social pressure no longer exists. Could they be related? Could the new social message of, you are entitled to get these benefits if you are qualified to, if you can legally, regardless if you need it or deserve it? What I see today is a focus on legality, not morality. If it's legal, it's right, there's no shame in doing something that is legal but morally despicable because morality is no longer agreed upon. That could be good or bad, but the weakness and lack of a cohesive moral code means that social forces are weaker too, and that could explain much of the breakdown in ethics we are seeing today.

Who's values, who's morality? That's a refrain often repeated, and it might be good overall to question certain social mores and all societies change their codes of conduct over time. We could be in one of the times of great change. Nevertheless, that also weakens the ability for society to restrict behavior. If it can't be said that some behavior is "wrong", then the only question that remains is, "is it legal?". This is increasingly the question I see being asked today. Right and wrong are simply not factors considered when making decisions. We should not use economics alone to analyze broad social behaviors, all of the fields of social science should be employed in such an analysis.

No comments: