Markets, Morality, and the Problem of Fractured Thinking

Economy, Religion — By on March 23, 2009 at 12:39 pm

In two recent posts, Julia Kiewit and Robin Dembroff remarked on the free market. At a glance, it may not seem like the two were remarking on the same thing, but they were. Julia engaged the free market in the abstract through her brief essay. Robin, on the other hand, addressed a problem that has occurred related to free markets, namely the problem of drug related warfare in Mexico. Each of these posts prompted a number of responses worth remarking on because I think that they demonstrate the problem of fractured thinking by disregarding important thoughts on morality and limiting possible solutions to Mexico’s problem.


In her brief essay, Julia remarked that “societies structured around liberty and free markets are important because they recognize the truth about human nature.” Namely they reward those who, “save, earn, invent, and create, thereby bringing out the best aspects of human nature, creating a strong society and, in turn, a strong nation.” I believe that people are designed to be creative. After all, we are made in the image of He who created all things. The economy is an abstract term that essentially refers to the activity of people exchanging the product of their hands, their creations. The market is the “place” where exchanges occur. A free market economy, then, is one where individuals are empowered to see a need, create a solution to meet the need, and distribute their solution.
Now what if the need is for something banned by law? The moral uprightness of the people must be relied upon if the free market is to be sustained and flourish.
Looking to Robin’s post, I contend that Mexico has not one, but two problems. Robin addressed the first problem: drug cartels are killing people. Those who produce and sell illegal drugs are immoral people, no surprise there. That their immorality would further extend and manifest itself in the killing of innocents is tragic, but to be expected. Common sense and history show us that bad people who surround themselves in a culture of badness will become more bad. Mexico is a case study for this claim. The fewer good people there are to resist the culture of badness, the more pervasive it becomes and the more it escalates.
The second problem Mexico is facing is a diminishing supply of “good people.” There is not sufficient rule of law in Mexico. Why not? One could point to a number of symptoms, the lack of good pay for law enforcement, for example. However, the disease itself is pervasive corruption, immorality, on the part of Mexico’s leadership class. Mexico is geographically situated perfectly between the Pacific and the Atlantic ocean (via the Gulf). It has an abundance of natural resources, beautiful landscapes, and its citizens are mostly hard working, good people. However, the country lacks morally good leadership. As a result, despite its abundant resources and excellent location, moral uprightness in Mexico cannot be relied upon, the market has collapsed (along with rule of law) and drug cartels are able to thrive off of the pervasive immorality infecting Mexico’s government.
The United States has problems as well. Many of our citizens are not moral people and these immoral people are providing an underground market for drug cartels. Contra Ex-Preacher and Milton Friedman’s point, the problem of Mexico and the United States is not a problem of laws or law enforcement, its a problem of people. Some people are behaving badly. One cannot build a system so perfect that men no longer need be good. One can legislate all day, but until there is change in the hearts of bad people brought by local, community-based pressure and encouragement to be good, the demand for drugs will not decrease.
Fractured thinking occurs when we silo our thoughts into separate, rigid, disconnected categories. In this case, fractured thinking was occurring when so many of the comments discussed the problem of Mexico in economic terms only. In this post I have attempted to connect and consider the problem in equally important terms of morality. When we address markets, we need also address morality. Aside from merely being a natural and proper way to think about the world, when we think holistically we open ourselves up to a multitude of solutions that would not present themselves were we engaged in fractured thinking.
Regarding the problem of Mexico, one such solution that can be carried out here on the home front is, as Boonton suggested, to praise the good (by buying products in Mexico) and to apply strong social pressure against those who use illegal drugs. Make it shameful to “use” in your community. Also, the Church should come alongside and help those who do “use” to overcome their addiction by educating their souls helping them to be good, putting them through drug rehab, and connecting them with jobs, education, etc. Regardless of how one feels about drug laws, education should include dialogue about honoring anti-drug laws. Students should be challenged to wrestle with the importance of being a good person as it relates to living in community. These are just a few of the many solutions that present themselves when we quit fractured thinking, consider problems holistically, and understand the importance of morality and goodness as it relates to free markets.
For excellent commentary on the relationship between markets and morality, visit the Acton Institute‘s website.


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  • Jeff

    Good connecting points between the economy and drug war. I’ve considered the arguments for ending the drug war as a pragmatic solution to the violence that accompanies this illegal marketplace. For the longest time I’ve said that making drugs legal will have the same effect as saying that taking drugs is morally acceptable. Even though we know that what is legal is much different than what is moral – our society and children can not or will not tell the difference. However, your arguments for solutions in the final paragraph can take place when drugs are illegal or legal (under the age of 18). At some point our culture may have to allow each persons responsibility for their choices to supplant our desire for legislation.
    While all legislation contains a moral position, we need to understand that the absence of law regarding an action does not condone it. As you can see I’m looking for a way to reconcile the well documented theory that outlawing stimulants and depressives creates greater damage than their use and my heart felt desire to live in a country that humbles itself and seeks the Lord and loves His law and does what is right in His sight…
    Come Quickly Lord Jesus, Come soon,