Adam Smith's Virtures revived.(BOOKS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 25, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Adam Smith's Virtures revived.(BOOKS)


Another "Professor of Moral Philosophy" a la Adam Smith at Glasgow University in the 18th century? Hopefully. But no hint in the academic

title, "Capitalism and Commerce" by Edward R. Younkins, professor of accountancy and business administraton at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, a man who sees capitalism resting on a solid moral foundation of voluntarism and contractualism.

His book sings the logic and workings of back-to-basics libertarianism. It is a welcome moral play, an antidote to a rising tirade of business-and-capitalism-bashing amid a rash of corporate scandals such as Enron, WorldCom and Global Crossing. Mr. Younkins sees the stock market, however bubbly and seesaw overall, largely policing itself as these ne'er do well firms quickly suffered steep stock price drops, thus punished far more swiftly than could Congress or the SEC.

Hints of moral insights in the Younkins approach to capitalism and commerce can be inferred from his post at a Jesuit institution, his founding the university's degree program in political and economic philosophy, his editing a collection of Templeton Prize winner Michael Novak's essays entitled "Three in One: Essays on Democratic Capitalism, 1976-2000," his many contributions to the Foundation for Economic Education's free-market monthly Ideas on Liberty.

Neither Adam Smith then nor Edward Younkins now show any delusions of business moral stamina resisting state temptations a la tariffs. The economic scenario in the 18th and 21st centuries, apart from most other periods, is one of special interests, including the power-corrupted state itself, all talking up money or other support to politicians who listen tantalized - and often give up in a long day of moral relativism.

Mr. Younkins defines capitalism then as, ideally, uncompromising laissez-faire?and centers the duty of a minimal state as but precluding ?any one person from using force or fraud against another person. Our author sees the free market reinforcing a free society rather than just a pragmatic network of efficient production.

Mr. Younkins embraces the Adam Smith metaphor of the Invisible Hand of self-interest serving the public interest, to wit a line in "The Wealth of Nations" (1776) that "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner but from their regard to their own interest."

So Mr. Younkins, in the vein of Milton Friedman's 1962 blockbuster, "Capitalism and Freedom," would repeal tariff, antitrust, licensure and income tax laws. While for a strong defense, he would drop the idea of America as the world's policeman.

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