The Ethics of Capitalism

In 1992, Fukuyama argued humanity might have reached the “end of history”, referring to the idea that capitalism is now the only viable economic system, being adopted by all countries. In this light, talking about ‘alternatives to capitalism’ can feel arcane and from another era. At the same time, rising inequality, poverty, polarisation and climate change raise some questions about this system. Indeed, surveys find that the majority of people now think that capitalism is doing more harm than good. 

In this seminar we will explore this conundrum. We will ask whether capitalism can have moral foundations and if it is possible that it’s doing more harm than good. We will discuss how capitalist the German economy really is. And we will debate how a constructive criticism of capitalism could look like. To do so, we will retrace the key arguments of classical economists like Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx and discuss to what extent their arguments for and against capitalism apply today. We develop a framework for comparing the economic systems of capitalism, feudalism, and socialism; and we will see if we can apply it to contemporary issues, such as unemployment, poverty, and social inequality. 

Get the seminar briefing pack.

Philosophy and Economics Programme, University of Bayreuth

Summer 21, with Carsten Jung

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