By Donald E. Frey
Strains the historical past of 2 rival American monetary moralities from colonial instances to the current.
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But no such admonition was coming, for Mrs. B remained reluctant to put obligations on the employer class (see Marcet 1827, 463–64). The wealthy had great discretion in the disposition of wealth, for property rights were absolute and trumped either productive investment or social reform. Mrs. B is faithful to the writings of Adam Smith and portrays self-interest in economics as a positive force. She points out that owners of capital can discover the best use for their capital, to which Caroline, the student, replies, “Of their own advantage they are no doubt the best judges” (460).
Woolman and Penn taught that the moral structure of the universe was responsive to God (Tolles and Alderfer, in Penn 1957, xxiv–xxv). People could be brought into accord with the moral reality and restored “to primitive harmony” (Woolman 1971, 208). Sin was “discord” of relationships to be set right in the present. Failures in human existence could be restored, and nature presented no obstacle, for “God had so ordered the universe that the needs of all would be met insofar as each person was guided by universal love to seek only what he really required” (Moulton, in Woolman 1971, 9).
Further, Puritanism itself may have contained a logical dynamic that led in this direction. American Puritans had always argued with their Calvinist roots, trying to soften the absolute sovereignty of their Calvinist God and to reconcile his authority to human reason (Miller 1956, 74). Perhaps this logical dynamic eventually would have led to something approximating liberal religion, a larger role for 34 AMERICA’S ECONOMIC MORALISTS self-interest, and utilitarian ethics. Finally, the American Revolution, as we have seen, caused even the orthodox to exaggerate the individualistic tendencies of Puritanism against government.
America's Economic Moralists: A History of Rival Ethics and Economics by Donald E. Frey