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More is Not EnoughMore is Not Enough

More is Not Enough

Last week, Lord Conrad Black said to a Cardus audience:

Brian Dijkema
2 minute read

More is not enough, and it never will be. This is both a true description of the way markets work, and why those who are concerned about morality in economic behaviour and structures might want to go beyond "more" as a basis for supporting free markets.

Last week, Lord Conrad Black said to a Cardus audience:

I am a capitalist because it is the only system that's basically aligned with the human ambition for more.

I mean it is a myth, and we should acknowledge it's a myth, that people really fundamentally want to share things. I mean they do, up to a point. Of course they do. They want to be generous. They want to take care of their family and their friends, and some people are more interested in that than others. That is an instinct. In general, people want more. That is the motivation, that is the engine for progress.

I too am a capitalist, and Cardus is on record both theoretically and in the nitty-gritty policy world of being in favour of free markets, but I'm not convinced that Lord Black's quote provides us—at least those of us who try to work out of 2,000 years of Christian social thought—with a sufficient basis for supporting free markets. We need, ahem, more than that I think.

I should first acknowledge the basic grain of truth in Black's statement: growth—one way of describing "more"—is inherent to economic activity. This doesn't always imply bigger, it can also imply "better", but there is a sense in which growth and development seems inherent to many aspects of our lives, and especially to economic life.

But thorns arise if growth or more becomes the end of economic life, or more succinctly, if "more" or "progress" becomes the rational for our support of structures of economic life. "More" is an ethically, religiously, and morally loaded term. The Dutch economist Bob Goudzwaard offers a robust and coherent articulation of how words like "more" and "progress" are laden with deeper meaning, and can reflect better or worse, depending on the rubric out of which those words are used. More can quickly move from being something worthwhile to being a golden calf.

More can be morally repugnant and worthy of protest if it comes out of the mouth of a factory owner in Bangladesh who wants to add more floors so he can give work to more workers so that he can make more shirts which he can sell for more money. More might be a fact of life, perhaps, but it can also be evil.

When used cautiously, though, more can also be the cause of much good. Take it away, Oliver!

It's possible that I am misreading Lord Black, or that I've missed something in his large body of writing which would lend more nuance to his position described above, and I remain willing to be corrected on this. However, as it stands, his position on markets leaves me, and should leave us, wanting more.

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