What caused the general moral rout of society?

Moral routs seem to have become commonplace. Although some people try to argue that this is only a special case, more people judge the real moral situation through their own eyes and ears. In a survey of more than 100,000 people organized by Phoenix.com, 87.7% of netizens disagreed with China’s “mainstream showing a good moral outlook” and believed that China’s “moral decline does exist.”

And Professor Sun Liping’s “social collapse”, Professor Yi Zhongtian’s “moral sandstorm”, Professor Zheng Yongnian’s “moral disintegration”, and Phoenix TV’s talk show about “moral collapse” all reflect the academic circle and the media Significant concerns about China’s moral future.

1. Does the market economy lead to moral collapse? ?

What has led to the phenomenon of moral collapse in many areas in China? According to CCTV and other media reports, behind every food and drug incident, from problematic milk to problematic capsules, there are a group of greedy companies that lose their bottom line. From this point of view, it seems that the market economy and the pursuit of profit have corrupted morality and threatened the safety of food and medicine. Many people believe that the root cause of moral collapse is the self-interest and greed that the market economy stimulates.

This can’t help but recall Marx’s classic quote on capital’s pursuit of profit: “With 50% profit, it (capital) will take risks; with 100% profit, it will dare to trample all human laws; with 300% profit, it will Dare to commit any crime, even risk hanging his head.”

Sima Qian once described the market prosperity of early China in “Records of the Grand Historian? Biography of Huoji”: “The world is bustling for profit, and the world is turbulent for profit.” According to Confucius, “the gentleman is compared to righteousness, and the villain is compared to profit”. According to Confucian teachings, this situation of “returning for profit” would presumably be seen as people tending to sacrifice moral code in pursuit of profit.

So, is the market economy really easy to lead to moral collapse? Probably not. If the market economy leads to moral collapse, then the more developed the market economy, the more serious the moral collapse should be. If the level of market economy is measured by the free market system and per capita income, North America and Europe are undoubtedly higher than China.

However, many people with long lived experience in these regions agree that there is no moral rout in these countries. Corruption is rare, corporate scandals are rarer, food and drugs are safer, practitioners in most industries pay more attention to professional ethics, and people pay more attention to mutual respect and civilized etiquette.

Among the 10 countries and regions with the highest degree of economic freedom in the world, except Mauritius, the remaining 9 countries and regions are all ranked within 25 in the Global Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International, all of which belong to global corruption. countries and regions with the lowest levels. This also shows that the market economy itself is not the source of moral collapse.

2. Can a market economy shape morality?

Not only that, but a market economy has the potential to encourage good morals. In traditional Chinese rural society, carpenters, masons, tailors, etc. were the earliest market-oriented jobs.

When I was young, the author had personally heard the masters in these fields admonishing their apprentices: Be honest, be conscientious in doing things, and strive for excellence in workmanship, so as to become a respectable craftsman with continuous business. This admonition of the old masters certainly contains the consideration of the self-interest of young craftsmen, but it objectively helps to shape the professional ethics.

In pre-modern China, behind every century-old brand is the operator’s strict requirements for quality and abide by professional ethics. “Even though the processing is complicated, we will not dare to save labor, and although the taste is expensive, we will not dare to reduce material resources” is the basic concept of Tongrentang, and it is probably the key to the longevity of Tongrentang.

The experience of modern market economy in Western countries can also illustrate the same reason. Goldsmiths, an old British jewelry company, was founded in 1778. As a jewelry company that has been in business for 234 years, it is undoubtedly abiding by the strictest ethical standards.

The guarantee of fineness and weight and the exquisite craftsmanship are related to the values ​​of the company, the business ethics of the management and the professional ethics of ordinary craftsmen. If it is a cutting corner, shoddy jewelry business, as long as a scandal is confirmed, it is enough to lose customers, or even close its doors. By means of competition, a market economy rewards businesses with virtue and character.

Likewise, individuals with virtue and character are favored by Mr. Market. Within the organization, what kind of employees have more opportunities for promotion? A simple answer is competent and reliable employees. In addition to talent, enterprises also select talents based on character, and even the standard of character is higher than the standard of talent.

Such standards and practices of enterprises can greatly affect the morality of society. For most people, since “honesty is the best strategy,” as Washington, the founding father of the United States, said, why take a risk on this issue?

3. The political and institutional logic of moral collapse

Since a market economy does not necessarily lead to moral collapse, and may even encourage virtue and character, how to explain the current moral collapse in many areas in China?

The French Enlightenment thinkers Montesquieu and Holbach both believed that a country’s moral status, social customs and civilized etiquette are largely shaped by the country’s political status, institutional arrangements and government behavior.

American scholar Cordivela’s book is simply titled “The Character of the Nation: How Politics Makes and Destroys Prosperity, Families, and Civility.” This theoretical perspective is worth learning from.

First, moral fashion is directly affected by the degree of the rule of law. If illegal market behavior is not punished, it is to encourage such behavior, and the result will lead to “bad money drives out good money”, which is rooted in the absence of the rule of law. China has undergone more than 30 years of reforms, but has not yet established a sound rule of law. Judging from world experience, no country without the rule of law can shape good civic morals, corporate ethics and social customs.

Therefore, it is not the market economy itself that leads to moral collapse, but the market economy that does not follow rules, and the market economy that emphasizes “hidden rules” everywhere leads to moral collapse. If a company that manufactures and sells counterfeit drugs can escape severe punishment, the owner will not go bankrupt or face jail, and even continue to operate through relationships and bribery, which objectively sets an example of a “bad boy”. In the long run, where there is no rule of law, there is no morality.

Second, moral fashion can be affected by government intervention in market activities. Too much government regulation, overburdened corporations, and too much government control over resources are almost doomed to jeopardize morality. Over-regulation and over-taxation can induce or force companies to operate illegally. Once a company chooses to operate illegally, it tends to evade all possible supervision and form complex transactional relationships with regulators. This will seriously corrode the relationship between government and business.

Excessive government allocation of resources can easily lead to flooding of rent-seeking. Rent-seeking is the main business strategy for companies that can get huge orders through bribes. The “Liu Zhijun case” and “Ding Shumiao case” both confirmed this. Such business owners usually have little interest in fair competition, improving quality, innovating technology and improving efficiency, and the key to their business is “marriage with politics”.

If these practices prevail, virtue will not only fail to gain a competitive advantage, but even struggle to gain a foothold. As the famous American corruption researcher Aikman said, “corruption is a basic survival strategy in some developing countries”.

Thirdly, the behavior of officials and government fashion itself are the weather vane of social morality. In ancient empires, what a monarch admired was often what his subjects admired. Flattery and extravagance quickly prevail if the monarch is fond of praise and pomp.

In many contemporary countries, official behavior and government style still dictate the moral style of the entire society. There are government officials in the publicly disclosed banquets that cost tens of thousands of yuan, or even tens of thousands of yuan per table.

If in officialdom, the “high society” in the eyes of ordinary people, luxury is considered a symbol of status, then it seems very difficult to shape the virtues of frugality and prudence in civil society. If luxury means prestige, then frugality means humbleness. At present, luxury is flourishing, and it is undoubtedly also influenced by officialdom fashion.

Furthermore, when political power is powerful and operates entirely from the top down, it is easier to create an atmosphere of hierarchy rather than one of freedom, equality and negotiation.

In this atmosphere, superiors are more likely to become domineering and arrogant, and they are often keen to be awesome; subordinates are more likely to become flamboyant and flattering, and they are often keen to win the favor of their superiors.

Once this official fashion is formed, it tends to spread quickly. This goes against the modern civic morality based on liberty, equality and fraternity. Official fashion will also directly affect the way government officials deal with enterprises and society, thus affecting the fashion of the entire society. This is another mechanism for shaping morality.

Buchanan, winner of the American Nobel Prize in Economics, believes: “The moral foundation of a market economy is credit.” The foundation of credit is honesty. So, does politics affect the honesty of a country? the answer should be confirmed.

Simply put, is the country’s political order and legitimacy based on honesty? Do the government’s actual policies match its stated goals? Do government officials generally do what they say and what they say? Are the statistics published by the government reliable? Does the education system really encourage honest character in every student? Can the news media report truthfully and objectively what is happening in this country every day? Honest character is truly encouraged only by an unequivocal, affirmative answer to these questions.

Otherwise, honesty will become a rare quality, and “speaking the truth” will become a matter of courage. If so, one has to be concerned that private lies may be just a continuation of public sphere lies, and corporate fraud may be an extension of political fraud. Only general honesty in the public sphere can shape the honest character of a nation.

According to the British historian Gibbon, morality was crucial to both the rise of the Roman Republic and the fall of the Roman Empire. In the prosperous Roman republic, “honor, and virtue, was the object of the republic”; in the late Roman Empire, “the fallen heirs competed not with the more virtuous, but with the more indulged in boring extravagance.” Gibbon believed that moral collapse was an important factor in the transition of the Roman Empire from prosperity to decline. Future generations should take this as a warning!

The market economy will certainly affect the moral status of a country, but its impact is not necessarily negative. On the contrary, it is entirely possible for a market economy to coexist with virtue. Political conditions, institutional arrangements, and government behavior have a greater impact on moral fashion than the market. The general moral collapse of a society is not so much the result of the market as the result of politics.

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