Moral Aspects of Economic Power

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/3123.htm)

Economics is an important factor in political decision-making but, as observed in the introductory section to this chapter (3.1.1), it should not be the only consideration.  As Michael Sandel noted:

“…questions of what we ought to do in politics or as a society are unavoidably moral and political, not merely economic questions, and so they require democratic debate about fundamental values.  Economists can inform us about possible implications of policy choices, but they can’t tell us – and they don’t really claim to tell us – what’s right and wrong, what’s just and unjust”.[1]

Sandel’s phrasing echoes this book’s separation of the different dimensions of governance, as illustrated by the examples given in the next sub-section (

Moral power is exercised in the Economic Dimension both directly and indirectly:

  • Individuals and organisations might behave in accordance with their moral values, for example when they pay extra for products that have been certified as ‘fair trade’ as described in the next chapter (, or when organisations such as charities are founded for a moral purpose.
  • An organisation can choose to behave morally to enhance its image, to attract buyers of its products and services, or at least to avoid reputational damage.
  • Individuals in a democratic political system can exercise their moral preferences by voting, and thereby exert moral influence through the politicians that they have elected.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014



[1] Michael Sandel commented on the scope of economic power, in the Reith Lectures 2009: A New Citizenship, Lecture 1: Markets and Morals, in his opening remarks.  The transcript of this lecture was downloadable in March 2018 from http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/radio4/transcripts/20090609_thereithlectures_marketsandmorals.rtf.

He subsequently published a book, What Money Can’t Buy, which further elaborated these arguments