282. Policies for combining virtue and freedom
In the foregoing item in this blog I proposed principles for reconciling freedom of choice of values and views of the good life with the introduction of morality and virtues in the public domain. I argued that the liberal stance that markets are value-free is illusory since it is based on the often hidden choice of utility ethics rather than some other ethic, and that markets create institutions that affect values and virtues, such as justice, trust, empathy, and care.
Here I develop those principles into more specific policies.
First, in education and schooling introduce, or bring back, a survey, and debate, of different forms of ethics and conceptions of the good life. Christian ethic of faith, hope and love, utilitarian ethics, Kantian duty ethics, and Aristotelian virtue ethics. Stoicism, also, perhaps. This is to serve the development of individual identity as well as good citizenship, with the interest and ability to debate alternative ethical views and moral systems. This is to form the basis for a tolerance that is based on interest and understanding of a variety of values.
Second, against the liberal dogma that they do not belong to the public sphere, bring back ethical and moral debate in politics and the formation of policies. What ethical and moral principles are served with legislation and public endeavours? What freedoms and cultural variety are allowed? The law must apply equally to all, but tolerance based on mutual interest and understanding is needed to allow for cultural variety. This is needed, among other things, to avoid the increasing cultural polarization now taking place, in Western countries, e.g. with respect to Islamic immigrants.
Then, on the basis of ethical debate, give room for markets where they work, but limit them where they fail or produce perverse effects regarding welfare or justice. In addition to existing regulations of many kinds, change institutions or extend market regulation with measures based on public ethical and moral debate.
For example, measures should be taken to weaken or eliminate the pressure of multinational companies on governments to extend advantages in taxes, regulation, energy prices, etc. with the threat that otherwise activities will be relocated elsewhere.
For an example of the need for a change of institutions, consider present efforts of some firms to shift the present purpose focused only on shareholder interest to wider interests of stakeholders such as personnel, customers, the environment, and the community. The bottom line is this: can one afford to be fair and transparent to those stakeholders even when this
means forgoing opportunities for higher profits. Many of such ventures are viable only for family businesses or cooperative businesses, shielded from threats of takeover to exploit the potential for unethical profits.
As I argued in the preceding item in this blog, mutual agreement on what is the good life, the ordering of goods, and requisite virtues, may be viable in smaller and relatively homogeneous communities such as the Athens of Aristotle, but not in nations as we now have them. But it can be approached by utilizing present opportunities for decentralization to establish the smaller scale, localized debate on shared ethics and morality, based on personal contacts and cooperation in local projects. Those may concern care for the sick and elderly, for shaping public space, developing public facilities, local finance for entrepreneurial ventures, sports, cultural events, education, etc.