Recently I read the book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, and while not the greatest critique of the moral limits of market values, it was a good read that I would recommend to someone who has never been exposed to this subject matter.
The bottom line in this book is that when we introduce money into the equation, then we push out other values. For instance, when we pay children for cleaning a room, then the market value of gaining money for hard work can push out the value of cleanliness. Over time the child learns that the only things worth doing are those things that give you money.
I also saw this in my friends in college. They were angry when they had to take a class that was not in their major and they would "never use again" in their lives. The assumption is why should we be forced to take a class that will not at some point in time get me more money? The value of a democracy - having an educated population - was being pushed out for the values of a market - to gain money.
It is a very interesting book to say the least.
One of the interesting things that came across in the reading is the thought by some economists that just as there is a limited supply of say, oil or gold, there is a limited supply of altruism. And so since this precious commodity can run out in people, it is best to create systems so that we can be selfish and greedy so that we do not waste altruism in areas where altruism is not valued. Here is the excerpt from the book:
He concluded with a reply to those who criticize markets for relying on selfishness and greed: “We all have only so much altruism in us. Economists like me think of altruism as a valuable and rare good that needs conserving. Far better to conserve it by designing a system in which people’s wants will be satisfied by individuals being selfish, and saving that altruism for our families, our friends, and the many social problems in this world that markets cannot solve."
This post is not intended to be a full blown critique of the idea of a limed supply of altruism, I am not that smart. What troubles me is the theological implications of this idea. That is to say, how do the parables Jesus, such as the generous landlord, come in conflict with the idea of limited altruism?