[This is an excerpt from a letter dated October 26, 1996, by Murphey to a friend (a fundamentalist Christian).  It relates to the role of morality in a free market economic system, and takes a view very different from that taken by many free market advocates, whose view of what is best for a free society differs from Murphey’s.]

 

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            It’s gratifying that you believe, as I do, that the theory of “free enterprise” without any ethical component is way off the mark.  Right after I received your letter, a response to the same articles [which I had written] came in from my old philosophy professor of 45 years ago.  Though in a friendly vein, he rejects totally my rejection of the over-simplified market theory; and he argues, consistently with that theory, that there is no basis for encumbering voluntary transactions with moral expectations.  He in effect clings to the doctrinaire view of the free transaction as though there is nothing further to be considered.

            Interestingly, Adam Smith (who wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments as well as The Wealth of Nations) and Richard Cobden of the Manchester School of Economics 170 years ago didn’t agree with the ideologues who so stoutly maintain their “free market purism” today.  I’ve mentioned this in my writing from time to time, and you may remember my reference to it.   Cobden reported a conversation he had with a man who argued that it was no business of a lender that the borrower wished to use the money to maintain a brothel.  Cobden told the man something like, “Then, Sir, you are not a man fit for civilization, and I’ll have no further discussion with you.”  So we see that the originators of free-market theory were not themselves of the opinion that moral components were to be excluded. 

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