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MORAL OR ETHICAL SCALES

Does morality or ethics exist?

The next question we need to answer if we want to compare different Economic systems is simple: does morality or ethics exist? This is, is morality or ethics something basic to human beings or is it an add-on, something we made up? If it is artificial, it can be ignored or replaced with something else. If it is basic to our very being, then it must be taken into consideration by any political or economic system because it is part of our reality. This is so because economics is a discipline of reality. We can hypothesize all we want about the possible economy of aliens, but these efforts will have no effect on planet earth.

Things do not think but animals do. However, they act by instinct. They do not assign values to events. If all the mice in the world would to die tomorrow, this would not be deemed either good or bad by cats. They would notice the difference, of course, but they would not assign a good or bad value to this fact.

People are different. People evaluate things through free will. They, by themselves, decide if something is good or bad. The reasons and processes leading to the decision are not important. What is important is that through free will we distinguish what is good or bad. This is a moral or ethical choice. We do this all the time. Therefore morality and ethics do exists since they are part of us.

Do morality or ethics value scales exist?

The next question we need to answer if we want to compare different Economic systems is: do scales of morality or ethics exist? If such scales do not exist, then our original question cannot be answered.

The very fact that we value events as good or bad necessitates a clear difference; otherwise we could not differentiate good from bad. Within these differences we also do recognize that something is less good or worse than something else. We can order events by their degree of goodness or badness, and we do so all the time. Therefore we inherently and naturally behave as if a moral or ethical scale exists. We may not agree on what that scale may be, but we do recognize it is there.

Which scale?

Now that we know that morals and ethics exist and can be valued over a sliding scale, we need to determine a suitable one to measure our homogenic and heterogenic theories on.

This is a difficult decision since a-priori (in principle) any scale can be chosen since morals and ethics are ultimately subjective. However, we would like to choose a scale that has wide support and agreement throughout the world of ethics and moral, but more importantly, it is simple enough to be intuitive for people to understand. We would like to standardize our original question on such a scale. Taking many scales into consideration, there is only one that passes our test: natural law.

The origins of natural law has been debated by philosophers for hundreds of years, and can be attributed to human reason, faith, intuition, grace, revelation or a myriad of other elements. Fortunately for us, its origin is irrelevant. What is relevant is its contents. O more precisely, its definition of ethics:

For all living things “goodness” is the achievement of what’s best for a creature according to its nature.

This is simple enough to understand. The goal of a creature is to fulfill its biological needs. It a cat catches a mouse and eats it, this is good for the cat. We don’t accuse the cat of murder or issue some other moral or ethical judgment or compare its behavior with what a chimpanzee would do. We judge this killing good because it is in the nature of the cat to do so. Is what cats’ nature enables them to do.

Translation to economics

Now that we have a scale, how do we translate it into economic terms for humans? Natural law says that something is good if it fulfills our natural needs. For humans, those natural needs are not just biological needs because we have free will. It is free will that enables us, humans, to create other needs and assign them different levels of desire. These levels will be subjective and personal since every one of us has free will and it is therefore different from each other. The study of the processes fulfilling those desires is called economics or, in Austrian Theory terms, Praxeology (the science of human action).

We need to make a clarification. Although economics deals with subjective issues, natural law is considered objective and universal. Objective because there is only one nature and universal because we are all part of nature. However, having said that, this does not mean that natural law presents itself to us. We need to discover it. Most philosophers agree that natural laws can be discovered using only reason; therefore we can use normal reason when dealing with natural laws. We will continue this piece assuming this argument is true.

Properties

In a real sense, economics studies the processes humans use to fulfill their desires. But the needs to fulfill such desires are mostly physical. I need a sandwich because I am hungry; I want a new hat because I like how I look in it. As such, physical means and their rights are at the very base of economics. Without property rights there can be no economics because without property rights people cannot fulfill their desires. What is the point of getting a sandwich I don’t have the right to eat it?

Therefore, property rights are a good yardstick to measure and compare the morality and ethics or economic theories.

Note: It is true that economics does not deal exclusively with physical needs; it deals for example with mental needs; i.e. those that consume time and hence have an “opportunity cost” (i.e. the cost of doing one thing versus the cost of doing something else). If I spend time thinking about a new car I would like to have, I cannot spend that time working and making money. This is “opportunity cost” and economics also deals with this.

Natural law and property rights

What does natural law tell us about property rights? For that, we need to answer a previous question.

The ethics of natural law tells us that for all living things “goodness” is the achievement of what’s best for a creature according to its nature.

But what is our first or most basic nature? Simple: that we are alive. Therefore our most basic moral “good” is to remain alive. In other words, ethically speaking, we have the right to live.

But what is our reason to live? To achieve what’s best for us according to our nature. This is, to exercise moral or ethical choices.

But if we have no property of our own, what can we exercise those moral or ethical choices on? How can we pursue what’s best for us? If we don’t have property rights, then there is nothing we can freely choose to use to achieve what’s best for us. Therefore, we must have property rights. Property rights are simply an extension of our right to life.

In other words, property rights are ethical and moral and therefore good as long as they are ours, personally and individually, so that we may exercise ethical and moral choices using our free will on them. If somebody else decides for us our rights to a given property, then this is not moral or ethical (and therefore bad) because we cannot freely exercise our moral or ethical choices.

A moral or ethical scale is found

Based on this logic, the simplest and more appropriate scale to measure the degree of morality or ethics an economic system has, is to gauge how many property rights it allows individuals to have. In other words, how freely can we dispose of or manage our properties.

The more property rights it assigns to individuals, the more moral or ethical it is.

An economic theory that assigns all property rights and retains none, would be the best. A theory that assigns no property rights (only privileges), would be the worst.

COMPARISON

Now that we have found our scale, it is time to compare how our homogenic and heterogenic systems fare.

In order to be able to perform this comparison, we need to suspend truth and assume that somehow, miraculously, an homogenic economic system has a valid Social Contract and therefore performs valid moral or ethical choices.

The homogenic view states that the goal of society always trumps the goal of the individual because the ultimate goal of society is to perfect itself. Therefore society always decides how many property rights an individual may have and it may remove those rights at will.

The heterogenic (or Austrian – Libertarian) view states that moral and ethical questions must be answered one individual at the time, one issue at the time. In other words, each individual is absolutely free to determine how to achieve what’s best for him or her. There are no other limitations. Therefore in this system, property rights are absolute and are only limited by the moral or ethical choices every one of us makes.

CONCLUSION

In summary Austrian or Libertarian systems are ethical or moral.

The moral or ethical choices people make in these systems are valid because they are their own. In any other system these choices are imposed to individuals and are invalid because they are based on invalid Social Contracts.

Lastly, Austrian or Libertarian systems assign absolute property rights to people, while all the other systems make different assignments ranging from no rights to some rights. Therefore, Austrian and Libertarian systems are more moral and ethical than any other system.

This is, of course, no surprise to us, but it may be a surprise to you. That’s OK. That’s why we are here. To show you that there is a better way morally, ethically and economically speaking.

Now is your turn to make a moral or ethical choice. You know what’s at stake. The choice is yours and only yours (although they may not recognize it). Your turn.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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