Endogenous Virtues and Economic Policy

Working Paper – Under Review

Presented at the 14th World Congress of Social Economics, Glasgow, Scotland, June 2012.

Conference Paper


In recent years a literature has developed that brings insights from virtue-based ethics to economics. One of the most formidable challenges in this literature is the application of these insights to policy decision-making. This paper summarizes the literature on virtue ethics and economics before drawing on MacIntyre’s account of virtues to argue the following. First, virtues are best conceived of, in economics, as capabilities for moral action. Second, these virtues are essential to the functioning of the economy. Finally, virtues are endogenous – they are formed for better and for worse within and by the economic system. After establishing this account of virtue, a variety of applications to economic policy are discussed. Two examples of regulation – minimum wage laws and the treatment of farmed animals – illustrate that this virtue framework can provide a new vocabulary for understanding some of the classic debates in economic ethics and public policy.