The Morality of Capitalism

Capitalism has brought more wealth to more people than any other system in history. In those countries that have adopted capitalism, the standard of living since the Industrial Revolution has far outstripped all the growth of the previous millenia. Yet capitalism is often reviled as evil or, at the best, amoral.

What are the facts? Is capitalism good or evil? How do we determine its moral status?

In this course we will consider the facts and arguments concerning these issues and examine the question “Is there a moral basis for capitalism?”

Reading list:

  • Plato’s Republic
  • Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics
  • Plutarch Lives, “Life of Lykurgus” (of Sparta)
  • Locke’s Second Treatise on Government
  • Voltaire, Philosophical Letters on the English
  • Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations
  • Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto
  • Mill, Utilitarianism
  • Menger, Principles of Economics
  • Weber, The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • Croly, The Promise of American Life
  • Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class
  • Mises, Liberalism
  • Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy
  • Hawley, Executive Suite
  • Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson
  • Rand, The Objectivist Ethics, “What is Capitalism,” “Man’s Rights,” “The Nature of Government,” and Francisco’s Money Speech from Atlas Shrugged
  • Rawls, A Theory of Justice
  • Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia
  • “The Call of the Entrepreneur” film by the Acton Institute

In addition to discussing these works in Socratic Seminars, the students have been assigned to interview four business owners about the owners’ view of their work, what value they are creating with it, and their moral view of themselves as business people. The students will give presentations based on their interviews.

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