Markets erode moral values (study)

June 15, 2013

In a recent study, researches from the University of Bamberg and University of Bonn suggest that they have found causal evidence of the corrupting effects of markets on moral values.

The abstract reads as follows:

The possibility that market interaction may erode moral values is a long-standing, but controversial, hypothesis in the social sciences, ethics, and philosophy. To date, empirical evidence on decay of moral values through market interaction has been scarce. We present controlled experimental evidence on how market interaction changes how human subjects value harm and damage done to third parties. In the experiment, subjects decide between either saving the life of a mouse or receiving money. We compare individual decisions to those made in a bilateral and a multilateral market. In both markets, the willingness to kill the mouse is substantially higher than in individual decisions. Furthermore, in the multilateral market, prices for life deteriorate tremendously. In contrast, for morally neutral consumption choices, differences between institutions are small.

A summary and interview of the authors can be found here. The study complements other findings (see below “related articles”) and calls into question mainstream ideas about capitalism.


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