Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Aristotle Was Right

Anyone who has sat through a course on introductory philosophy or has read books on that subject should be familiar with Aristotle’s theory of the Golden Mean, which that sagacious philosopher elucidated in his work “Nicomachean Ethics”. The Golden Mean, to sum up in its most basic form, states that ethical/reasonable behavior is usually the “happy medium” between two extremes.
For example, a healthy diet would be viewed as one in which one eats a reasonable amount of food from a variety of sources. Eating too much can lead to obesity; eating too little can lead to malnutrition.
Same thing with, let’s say, alcohol. In moderation, it can bring feelings of felicity and, according to some studies, can actually help with circulatory health. Too much alcohol, of course, can lead to a wide range of problems for one’s mental and physical health.
Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I sincerely think our recent economic meltdown was caused by capitalism forgetting the Golden Mean and getting too extreme in its quest for maximizing profits. Working hard for a reasonable profit wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t enough to pay American workers well. In their quest for ever-increasing profits, capitalists went overseas to find ever cheaper labor. This appeared good to them in the short term, but while their profit margin increased, the overall result of those jobs leaving this country was that domestic unemployment increased and the tax base decreased while the drain on social services went up. In addition, those workers who were once able to afford the products produced by the companies they once worked for could no longer afford to purchase those products without going into debt.
Investors, meanwhile, not content with merely investing wisely, started playing games more akin to gambling than investing. Derivatives trading, short-selling stocks and Ponzi schemes replaced the wise investment of resources to the detriment of the entire economy.
Capitalism could work if only the capitalists would learn to take their profits in moderation. Unfortunately, they were more like those who eat or drink too much. They just HAD to have more, even if they knew overindulging would be bad for them and others in the long run.
While it’s true that over-taxing profits would be a disincentive to invest, allowing companies free reign to go hog-wild regardless of the consequences of their actions is just as bad. A lack of reasonable, sound regulations allowed this nation to become a “legumocracy”, i.e., one ruled by the “bean counters”. Their only concern was maximizing profits no matter how it may adversely affect others. Perhaps business schools should take a few hours out of teaching Adam Smith and substitute a bit of Aristotle. The businesspeople of tomorrow may learn something valuable

1 comment:

  1. You should check out the documentary the Corporation. The premise is that corporations are essentially psychopathic.

    My theory was that at one time corporations were controlled by one person. For example, in the 50s all the bean counters at Coke thought that Coke should raise its price. But the owner at the time demanded that it continue costing 5 cents.

    Sure that one person could be immoral and psychopathic himself, but at least there was a moral being controlling the actions. As we've talked about recently, inanimate objects, such was corporations, are necessarily amoral. They are mere tools incapable of making moral choices.

    And when groups of people use these tools to make profits, because there is a group mentality that no one is doing anything wrong because all actions are for the benefit of the corporation, any sense of morality or moderation goes out the window.

    The Right are tough on crime because they know people can be immoral. But for some reason, corporations are above the law. While people can be locked up for smoking pot, corporations should be allowed to dump its harmful waste in rivers and somehow the mysterious "market" will solve the problem on its own. I don't get it either.