Virtue and capitalism

Published this two years ago, but it seems appropriate to revisit.

In an interview with the Times of London, the Archbishop of Westminster makes some interesting observations about our particular brand of capitalism:

… the economic downturn could be the very thing that brings us to our senses. “It’s the end of a certain kind of selfish capitalism,” Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said. “This particular recession is a moment – a kairos – when we have to reflect as a country on what are the things that nourish the values, the virtues, we want to have … Capitalism needs to be underpinned with regulation and a moral purpose.”

He will stand down soon as the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, which he has been for nine years, but before he goes he wants to make one final plea to Britons to change their ways. He told The Times that he had advised Gordon Brown to complement his National Economic Council with a moral one, to “rediscover the things that make for a healthy society”.

He said: “One feels very sorry for those losing their jobs but in times of recession people have to rely on friends and neighbours and families and things that really matter to them. That may be a good thing. I think people did lose their way a bit. It has been difficult to bring up children with the kind of values we want. Let’s face it, we now have a ‘me, me’ society, a more consumerist society, a utilitarian society, and our values and virtues have become diminished.

Great points. I don’t support regulating capitalism via laws, though. You can’t legislate virtue — it’s got to come from within.

By | October 7th, 2011|virtue|0 Comments

Islamic women in America

Interesting profile in NY Times shows the public strides Muslim women are making in the United States:

“Muslims coming to North America are often seeking an egalitarian version of Islam,” said Ebrahim Moosa, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke University. “That forces women onto the agenda and makes them much more visible than, say, in Western Europe.”

Besides her speakers’ bureau, which advertises itself as “a bridge between Islam and Americans of other faiths,” Ms. Khalifa heads a consultancy working with students, executives, soldiers and even the F.B.I. to overcome stereotypes. Some people she addresses have never met a Muslim. Some look askance at head scarves.

Ms. Khalifa, who has degrees in chemistry and human resources, began wearing a head scarf in her mid-30s, about 15 years ago. At first, she said, people looked at her “like I was different, Muslim, un-American, stupid.”

But she is quietly persistent. When a small-town newspaper refused to run Ms. Khalifa’s ad listing the hours of a nearby mosque, she organized a successful boycott by local churchmen.

Love that last line — in fact, that’s why I love America. Some idiot didn’t want to let a mosque advertise its service times. So, who helped correct this injustice? Christian leaders — what a wonderful statement of tolerance.

Sometimes we focus so much on what America gets wrong that we forget to see how much we get right.

By | January 2nd, 2011|virtue|0 Comments

Integrity: Three simple steps

One of my favorite books is “Integrity” by Yale law prof Stephen Carter. In it, he offers three steps to follow to lead a life of integrity:

1) Discern right from wrong. This is harder than it looks because so many of us make decisions without slowing down long enough to discern whether we’re acting within a consistent moral framework.

2) Struggle to live according to the sense of right and wrong you have discerned. This is tough because it could often be time-consuming or expensive. For instance, whenever I park in my downtown Atlanta parking garage, I get a discount because I’m a student. However, the garage asks that I park on one of the top three floors. I’m always tempted to park on a lower level because it’s more convenient. Can’t do that and live in accordance with this principle.

3) Be willing to say what we are doing and why we are doing it. This can be the toughest of all and will often point out that our moral foundation is shaky. (It plays on Kant’s publicity principle.) It’s one thing to take a moral stand, but quite another to so publicly. For instance, I once justified downloading music illegally because the record companies were charging too much per song. That’s a fine moral position — as long as I’ve slowed down and discerned it — but am I willing to tell the record companies that I’m stealing their music? In my case, I had neither discerned the position nor was I willing to announce it publicly.

You should buy the book. It’s a great read — he takes you on a series of ethical propositions and explores each one within this framework. Is it OK to exaggerate on a recommendation letter? Is it cheating for a baseball player to steal signs? Can a politician live in integrity and yet compromise on his principles?

Great questions, and Carter provides some great answers.

By | February 15th, 2010|Uncategorized, virtue|0 Comments

Doing the right thing

While I’m on a virtue kick, here’s a nice story:

Someone else might have kept the diamond jewelry, the expensive watch, the iPod and the digital camera left in Miki Cooper’s lost bag.

But Walter Fernandez, the taxi driver who found Cooper’s bag and its expensive contents on the floor of his minivan, returned it to her.

Explained the 64-year-old native of Uruguay: “It wasn’t mine.”

Simple answers are usually the best.

By | February 3rd, 2009|virtue|0 Comments

Culture of corruption

I guess this is good news:

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd says he’ll refinance two mortgages that he received through a VIP program from Countrywide Financial Corp.

Dodd told reporters Monday that the mortgages for his homes in Washington and East Haddam, Conn., will be refinanced with a different company.

Dodd has acknowledged receiving mortgages in 2003 through a VIP program at Countrywide, which was sold to Bank of America Corp. earlier this year and has been the focus of allegations that it gave favorable loan terms to lawmakers.

Dodd says he’s moving the loans in part because he was wrongfully labeled a friend of Countrywide’s former CEO, Angelo Mozilo. Dodd says he never sought special treatment.

The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Dodd says a third party will be involved in choosing the new bank.

What exactly is a “VIP program”? For whom is it designed? I would guess anyone who the mortgage industry would like to have on their side. I’m sure you and I wouldn’t qualify for a VIP mortgage.

I’ll take Dodd at his word that he never sought special treatment. It was just given to him without asking. But, good virtue should have led him to turn it down. I suppose I’m expecting too much out of our elected officials.

By | February 2nd, 2009|virtue|0 Comments