Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise

By Machan, Tibor R. | Freeman, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise


Machan, Tibor R., Freeman


Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise by Edward W. Younkins Lexington Books * 2002 * 384 pages * $80.00 hardcover; $26.95 paperback (Rowman and Littlefield)

As readers of this publication are likely to be well aware, capitalism and commerce aren't very popular with most intellectuals and academics. One cannot dispute the generalization that the bulk of textbook authors and writers of scholarly works, not to mention college and university teachers in the field of business ethics, are mainly business bashers.

One harmful result of this sorry situation is that over the last several decades-during which college students have increasingly taken courses in business ethics-the topic has been taught mostly by those who are hostile to both capitalism and commerce. The major journals in the field are filled with critiques of all aspects of free-market capitalism and the kinds of commerce it makes possible.

This work is rare, then, for placing on the record a straightforward, accessible explanation of the nature of capitalism and the moral and conceptual foundations in support of the commerce that takes place in such a system. The book is eminently suitable for use in an introductory or intermediate course on business and society, business ethics, or the philosophy of economics.

The author, a professor of accounting at Wheeling Jesuit University, begins by noting that freedom-as understood in the classical-liberal tradition that unleashed capitalism all across the globe-is not primarily a means to spur wealth production, as most classical and neo-classical economists since Adam Smith have understood it. Rather, it is a prerequisite of morally significant conduct itself.

If what you do is coercively imposed on you-as per the zillions of government regulatory and tax measures of the welfare state-there is no moral significance to your actions. Only to the extent that such coercive force is escapable and human beings are able to act on their own volition is their conduct morally significant. This is when we can be justifiably either credited or blamed for what we do. More precisely, only when we act freely are we able to exercise moral judgment. …

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