|July 23, 2012||Posted by Fred Foldvary under Editorials|
The word “harmony” derives from the Greek word “harmonia,” meaning agreement. In music, harmony consists of the use of complementary, pleasing, simultaneous notes. People live in harmony with nature when there is a mutual benefit: people use natural resources without harming the environment, and even helping it such as by promoting choral reefs.
People live in mutual social harmony when activities that are complements are greater than those that are substitutes. Complementary activities are those that are mutually enhancing. Trade is complementary, as all parties benefit from a mutual exchange.
Social peace is disturbed when people seek to impose their values, beliefs, and cultures on others. Since people have differing religions and cultures with clashing ethical views, how can there be social peace? Social harmony requires the implementation of an ethic that transcends culture, so that no culture dominates. This is contrary to today’s world, in which laws are based on the dominant culture and are imposed on unwilling minorities.
A universal ethic for humanity has to be derived from what people have in common: human nature. This ethic is also called “natural moral law.” The philosopher John Locke explained that human nature has in inherent ethic based on equality and independence. We think and feel individually, and thus independently. Human equality is that of moral worth, which implies equal moral rights and equality before the law.
Like anything else, natural moral law, or the universal ethic, exists when it satisfies some criteria. The universal ethic has to apply to all persons and to all human action. It has to be logically consistent and non-arbitrary.
Morality assigns to each act one of three moral values: good, evil, and neutral. From the premises of equality and independence, we can derive three moral rules. Acts are morally good if they are welcomed benefits. Acts are morally evil if they coercively harm others. All other acts are morally neutral.
In a realm of cultural diversity, social harmony is maximized when the laws are in accord with the universal ethic. Each culture is able to express itself so long as it is not imposed on others. If a culture seeks to initiate force on others, this would not be allowed, but such force would itself upset social harmony. We get social peace when we minimize coercive harm to others.
In a free society, some people may be offended by others’ cultural expressions, and they may feel themselves to be in disharmony with that, but if they were to impose their religion or culture by force, they would make themselves masters, and the others would be slaves, violating the equality premise. Equality requires people to tolerate offensive speech and action, and this tolerance maximizes social harmony.
Economics and ethics are in mutual harmony, because the policies that maximize prosperity are the same ones that are ethical. A pure free market exists when all activity is voluntary. The universal ethic defines that voluntary human action consists of acts that are either good or neutral. Since the universal ethic gives the market its meaning, and the same ethic is used to judge the market, a pure free market is inherently ethical.
The public finance that maximizes prosperity is public revenue from land rent. The taxation of wages imposes disharmony. The premise of equality implies that each person is an equal self-owner. Coercive harm to others upsets this equality, as the victim becomes an inferior slave to the superior master. Since any theft of wages constitutes coercive harm, the taxation of wages is also theft. Thus by the universal ethic, a tax on wages or on the products of labor is evil. And, such a tax reduces prosperity, as taxes on labor and produced goods reduces output and growth.
Self-ownership does not apply to natural resources, i.e. land. The equality premise implies that the benefits of land be shared equally. Such benefits are measured by the economic rent of land, the rent when land is put to its best use. The rent may either be distributed to the persons of the relevant community, or else be collected to finance the community’s public goods.
Disharmony is created also by subsidies. When the price of a good is subsidized, those who buy the extra amounts value the good less than those who are willing to pay the cost of production. Thus the gain to consumers is less than the loss to the taxpayers. Subsidies are often implicit, such as when consumers do not pay the pollution damage of their products, or when public goods raise land values because they are paid for by taxes other than on the landowners.
For social harmony, the laws and policies of governance have to be based on the universal ethic. To maximize economic harmony, public revenue comes from voluntary user fees, pollution charges, and land rent. Conflicts are settled by mediation, arbitration, or impartial courts of law.
Although equality is inherent in human nature, most people have a cognitive bias in thinking that their culture is superior and deserves to be privileged. For social harmony, we need to regard all other persons as moral equals. The world has made progress towards this goal, but most people still believe in the initiation of force. The universal ethic is inherent in human nature, but it requires enlightened education to realize this, as the creed of cultural supremacy is very difficult to overcome. There is much work left for social reformers.