UTILITY: Our Abandoned Moral Standard

     Before you can understand utility, you have to understand two other principles of moral behavior: rights and justice.

     Rights relate to the individual: the right to have the opportunity to make a decent living, for example. Or to be fully an honestly informed about important social problems.

     Justice goes further and relates to relationships between individuals, such as equal wages to every person in a work group doing the same kind and quality of job. Or, in a negative sense, equal punishment for equivalent crimes against society.

     Utility goes still further, and is concerned with the greatest good for the greatest number. Just because it's legal, one person shouldn't buy a corporation's pension fund, sell it a huge profit to a fly-by-night investment house, and use the money to buy a yacht and mansion-while thousands of elderly pensioners, on reduced incomes, see the fund go bankrupt later.

Utility: the Achilles Heel of Capitalism

     Actually, the principles of rights, justice and utility are all interrelated and never exist in isolation. They simply give different perspectives from which to view the moral considerations in decision making. Given these qualifications, "utility" is the ehtical Achilles heel of capitalism, or of any other economic system that is supposed to benefit the greatest number of people.

     Our system of democratic capitalism does a reasonable ;job with rights and justice issues, especially when compared with other countries. We're a sentimental people and we readily resent obvious injustices to, or between, identifiable individuals.

     No country, including the United States, however, has ever been much concerned with utility. Utility relates to the amorphous public-people who don't live in our neighborhood, are not members of our political party, don't have our level of education, are not members of our management clique, and so on.

     Unethical utility decisions affect our economy-and our workers-far more than do unethical rights or justice decisions. Rights and justice, although not completely satisfactory in actual practice, are accepted by U.S. citizens as necessary moral "givens."

     On the other hand, we totally disregard utility considerations. Capital has become "only money," and to manipulate money is a legitimate part of the American Monopoly game of power politics, power management, or power whatever. It's based on the principle that the spoils go to the victor, not on what it best for the total society.

     We've reached the point in the U.S. where the misuse or squandering of money is not only not subject to moral censure, it has become a perverted, even glorified, right.



Return Home