Placing the Same Standards for Our Markets as We Do for Ourselves: The Immorality of Markets

Cate Stuart, Stewart, AM

The market is not amoral.

A market that sells what its consumers want, not what they need; a market with a Federal Reserve that can “pull the inflation cord” if errors occur; a market that allows Bill Gates to live in a mansion with an indoor trampoline pit1 while 15 million children do not even have a shed for shelter2 – no, you cannot tell me this market is “amoral.”

A market that calls human capital an “economic passport”; a market that promotes price discrimination; a market in which the rich grow richer and the poor just the opposite – with qualities like these, you cannot tell me our “free market” evades the issues of morality.

Although many, such as Charles Wheelan, argue the market to be amoral because it provides “not goods that we need but goods that we want,” this exact reasoning contradicts itself. For example, humans need food to live. The market offers us food, but not the healthy food we need to live. Rather, because we want a food that tastes good, the market offers us the thinnest hamburger with a side of extra-greasy fries – the result of production. Because the market wants money and because the market wants to grow, the market does not care about our personal health. That we need fruits and vegetables as the basis of our diet is irrelevant – why care about quality when what you need is quantity? 3  Give them what they will buy, not what they need, even if it makes them worse off because that makes the economy grow. Sound amoral?

Furthermore, others, such as Dan Lashof4, argue markets themselves are amoral, but whether the rules of the market are moral is “up to us.” Granted, inanimate objects, or in this case transactions, typically lack moral standards. However, if an object, like the market, is made by living people, the object itself must be moral or amoral because the market, made up of living parts, is therefore living. We see this concept often with book censorship. For example, many public schools ban books like Slaughterhouse Five on account of their “immorality.”5 If a book, an inanimate object written by man, can be deemed “immoral,” why can our economy, a market of transactions following rules written and adjusted by man, not be deemed moral or immoral?

When did we allow the morality – or lack of – in our market to become an afterthought? When did expanding the economy overpower expanding the ethics?

Let us acknowledge the facts. Let us acknowledge that a shop in Chicago sells cakes specifically for dogs while no one runs a firm that helps the homeless obtain food. Let us acknowledge that the health industry charges people more for their prescriptions than they would charge for the same medicine if it were for a dog, because the industry knows people will pay more for their own health, allowing the market to benefit from our disabilities. Let us acknowledge that airline tickets are sold to different groups of people, such as businessmen, for cheaper prices than those who truly need them, such as the family visiting a dying relative, because they must be travelling for “leisure.”

Let us acknowledge that our market discriminates, our market targets, and our market oppresses. Our market is not amoral.

1Charles J. Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012).

2“Child Poverty.” NCCP . 2017. Accessed June 20, 2017.

3“H3 Nutrition Pyramid.” Digital image. Accessed June 20, 2017.

4Lashof, Dan. “Markets are Amoral. Whether their Rules are Moral or Immoral is Up to Us.” NextGen Climate America. June 23, 2015. Accessed June 20, 2017.

5Morais, Betsy. “The Neverending Campaign to Ban ‘Slaughterhouse Five'” The Atlantic. August 12, 2011. Accessed June 20, 2017.


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