Organizations or Markets in Morality?

30 June 2009 at 4:19 am 3 comments

| Benito Arruñada |

Moral codes can be produced and enforced through markets or through organizations. In particular, Catholic theology can be interpreted as a paradigm of the organizational production of morality. In contrast, the dominant moral codes are now produced in something resembling more a market.

The organizational character of Catholicism comes from its centralized production and enforcement of the moral code by theologians and priests and the mediation role played by the Church between God and believers. The epitome of both features is the old institution of confession of sins, a cultural universal that reaches full sophistication — for good and for bad — within Catholicism. My forthcoming JSSR paper argues that confession was a strikingly organizational solution to the production and enforcement of morality, something that Western societies now do mostly through markets.

Instead of centralized decisions by popes, councils, and theologians, the moral code is now written by millions of human decentralized interactions of all sorts. Now that there are thousands of gods, including the environment, mediation has also been transformed or disappeared. These market features make for lesser specialization. Most morality producers also play many other functions, from teaching to advertising.

It is well known that Catholic confession suffered heavily from the standard agency problem: priests often used their privileged position to extract rents. Sale of indulgences was only the most prominent historical case. The same problem plagues our societies. And it is hard to remedy because most modern priests sell their morality with a professional disguise.

By the way, coming back to indulgences, what are CSR and environmental audits but indulgences for sinful deeds? (I thank Joaquín Trigo for this lead). Should we be surprised that some Jesuit-inspired organizations are active suppliers of green and CSR credentials?

Entry filed under: Education, Former Guest Bloggers, Institutions, Law and Economics, Papers. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joe Mahoney  |  30 June 2009 at 10:00 pm

    Catholic theology can be interpreted as a paradigm of the organizational production of morality. Indeed, a warranted analysis of spirtuality probably will not be spiritual. I hasten to add, however, that analyzing religious experience may be far removed from being immersed in the experience, and may miss the spirit of the phenonomen, in an important sense, which is better conveyed by writers such as C. S. Lewis.

  • 2. Dominic  |  30 June 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Quoting the words of Benito Arruñada –

    “By the way, coming back to indulgences, what are CSR and environmental audits but indulgences for sinful deeds?”

    Both being the new artefacts of a guilty conscience, one could think (or not depending on your initial viewpoint)? But, cynical as we are I agree with the concept of ‘indulgences for sinful deeds'; the succinct, elegant, and, quite frankly inconvenient truth of the real intention.

  • [...] 5, 2009 Benito Arruñada has a fascinating post at Organizations and Markets: Moral codes can be produced and enforced through markets or through organizations. In particular, [...]

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