Thursday, January 8, 2009

The ethics of prosperity

Isaac M. Morehouse writes an interesting article about the contrast between the ethics of Hesiod, who was a laborer living in a time of relative Greek poverty and Aristotle who was an Aristocrat living at the tail end of a time of relative Greek affluence. Hesiod was at the forefront of a long period of Greek economic growth, whereas Aristotle was in the midst of a period of significant decline. Morehouse notes,
generations who grow up wealthy often lack respect for or understanding of the values and ideas that generated the very wealth from which they benefit
There is an honesty, realism, and practical virtue often accompanying generations that have to endure difficult labor that is sometimes lost on later generations that inherit a comfortable material life.
I think Morehouse rightly characterizes Aristotle as a philosopher who believes in virtue as born of leisure, which is certainly not an economically productive mode of living. Prosperity creates the possibility for leisure, and a possibility of abandoning the more difficult type of ethics that attained the prosperity.

It leads to the question of whether prosperity inevitably leads people to abandon the ethic that got them there and lead to the inevitable decline that follows prosperity. Many great and diligent entrepreneurs of substantial wealth often do produce children who, instead of being the hardworking creators of successful business like their parent are rather great patrons of the arts or world travelers or womanizers or other such more enjoyable pursuits.

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