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Moral Economy

Longview is working to develop a systematic alternative to the Market Fundamentalism that has dominated the policy agenda in the United States for a generation. We seek to replace Market Fundamentalism by building a Moral Economy that is consistent with our deepest values.

Over the last two decades, discussions of both the domestic economy and the global economy have been dominated by neoliberal arguments against state "intervention" in the economy. The collapse of Soviet-style communism has been treated as justification for celebrating the idea that untrammeled markets always work best. Those who believe that government has an essential role to play in the economy have been put on the defensive and have suffered a long series of political defeats.

We think the key to transforming the debate lies in drawing the contrast between a "moral economy" and an "immoral economy." The selfish pursuit of individual gain is not a sufficient basis for the construction of social order. Without shared moral values, society degenerates into a Hobbesian struggle of all against all. The world's great religious traditions call on us to place our deepest values and our connections to each other over the acquisition of possessions.

The history of the United States can be understood as a series of struggles to construct a moral economy. Starting from the great campaigns against the slave trade and for the abolition of slavery and continuing through the populist movement, the reforms of the progressive era and New Deal through to the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement and the Environmental Movement, people in the U.S. have periodically mobilized in great numbers to insist that the pursuit of profits be subordinated to moral values, such as the inalienable rights of the individual and our reverence for the earth.

In the last generation, however, the worship of the free market has led to a rollback of previous reforms and a profound confusion about the deepest purposes of our lives. Nothing symbolized this confusion more than the frenzy of greed unleashed by the stock market bubble at the end of the 1990's. Now that the bubble has burst, it is apparent that some of the extraordinary promises of new technologies were actually cut short by the rush for wealth. Instead of building a "new economy," we were creating an immoral economy. Consider the following:

  • CEO pay was 419 times the pay of an average factory worker in 1998
  • Unprecedented rates of incarceration so that by 1998 there were more than 668 inmates per every 100,000 residents compared to 313 in 1985.
  • A global economy marked by rising inequality and catastrophic declines in living standards in many parts of the world.
  • A growing U.S. care deficit as millions of families juggle the demands of work with responsibilities for both children and aging relatives. Almost forty million people lack health insurance and a third of these are are children.

The Moral Economy Project will begin by focusing on corporate reform, the need to reform our society's treatement of the poor, and ethical globalization. One of our longer term goals is to develop a Progressive Platform that will provide a unified reform vision for both the United States and the world.

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