Markets, Moral Aspects of
FREDERICK F. WHERRY
Yale University, USA
Markets offer arenas for affirming and contesting right and wrong behavior, but they also do more than that by providing the stages where people enact and put on display the principles of their shared morality. Social scientists James Scott (1976) and Viviana Zelizer (2011) offer useful examples of how moral concerns infuse and steer market transactions. In The Moral Economy of the Peasant (1976), Scott noted that the villagers he studied have their own “notion of economic justice and their working definition of exploitation – their view of which claims on their product were tolerable and which intolerable” (p. 3). Scott moves us away from a mechanical analysis of capital–labor relations to the realm of how people are categorized and what rights and obligations are attached to what categories of persons. Scott and Zelizer recognize that work, compensation, and inviolable property rights depend on compelling moral content that emerged from sacred rituals.
Viviana Zelizer (2011) has challenged our understandings of morality and markets in her studies of the insurance industry. Pricing life in the insurance market was not merely a mathematical calculation for the actuarial tables. Marketers and sales agents relied on large-scale societal shifts in how people categorized and valued their children. Parents struggled over what it would mean to insure a priceless life at a monetary ...