Monday, December 21, 2009

Economics, Morality, and Individualism

Max Weber explored how individualism and economic growth can be mutually supportive in a climate of public morality. That morality, I would argue, can shift with the times but must remain personally comprehensible and economically productive if it is to endure.

Changing economic circumstances, in fact, demand that we reexamine the public morality that, by its very normative nature, we tend not to consider in an active and persistent manner. Such re-examination necessarily bring turmoil, for the reason, just implied, that unexamined mores proliferate best.

Rapid information flows and globalized financial networks are among the factors that most destabilize our public morality today. That nation-state is both less relevant and more vital to our economic life: Its control over a particular economic environment is less absolute, but the necessity for its support of the growing international business of its people is increasingly essential.

It will not be easy to assimilate dynamics that implicitly undermine traditional political orthodoxies and that, accordingly, act as intellectual irritants. Such is the source of the appeal of ideological entrenchment.

Our concerns for individual liberty and social welfare are valid and valuable. The success (or failure) of the task of re-imagining our politics depends on our patience and intellectual courage.