Some of my heroes are historians; some are economists. All of them are moralists. What hope is there for us until we are all moralists? It will not be a better world until we are better men and women. Leftists have a fantasy about “new men”, a new breed of humans which will come into being when society is remade in according to their notions. We conservatives have a melancholy understanding that men are “fallen”. Good men make a good society not vice versa.
Melancholy does not mean pessimistic. We believe that although all men are fallen, each man can be improved. All men can desire that all men should be better than they are.
Moral philosophy is far more important than economics. Moral philosophy is about generosity vs greed, kindness vs cruelty, honesty vs deception. Our tradition teaches us about a range of virtues, some of them very practical, practical in the sense that they make our lives better and that they make us better, sometimes simultaneously. I want to make the case for three traditional virtues: Thrift, Honesty and Hard Work. A moment’s introspection will show that a society in which these virtues are prevalent is superior to one in which they are not. You and your neighbours will be better off if you and they are thrifty, honest and hard working.
Politics? Practical morality. The conservative view is that whatever encourages these virtues will benefit us all. Therefore policies which reward thrift, honesty and hard work are good, those which discourage them are bad.
Let’s have a look at each in turn.
Thrift. Our ancestors understood that to indulge every material whim would imperil your future. The “rainy day” was very likely to come about. So, deferment of gratification was good for you and your family. On a societal scale, if you saved and invested you would do well for yourself and your family; but you would then also be in a position to provide work for those outside your family. As an entrepreneur, one of my greatest gratifications was to contribute to economies outside of my own family. In truth, an individual can hardly do more good than by giving work to his neighbours.
The Marxist idea that the entrepreneur exploits his employees is absurd. They exploit him by being paid before they have ever contributed to his profits.
Honesty. It is impossible to eliminate dishonesty. But every dishonest act encourages distrust. Distrust hurts the distrusted. Who will do business with someone who has cheated them?
Hard Work. It is very easy to spot slacking. When you do you are indignant. Often you perceive that the slacker is, in effect, gaining an undeserved benefit from your effort. This is true whether you are a customer or a co-worker.
Free markets reward thrift, honesty and hard work. Socialism does not; it takes from those who have and gives to those who have not. Socialism is the opposite of Justice, the idea of deserts – virtue deserves its reward.