Hirschman, Albert. 1982. "Rival Interpretations of Market Society: Civilizing, Destructive, or Feeble?" Journal of Economic Literature 20:1463-1484.


The idea that social order could affect happiness was a relatively new idea in the eighteenth century. In the mid 18th century some people began to believe that the markets were a civilizing agent, making gentlemen and creating a more peaceful existence among men. It is seen as a powerful moralizing agent.

Another view stated that capitalism actually undermines the moral foundations of a society. The greater anonymity and mobility in society reduces the impact of morality on people. As people pursue more self-interest, collective interest loses out. Some felt that capitalism would ultimately erode the values needed for capitalism itself, leading to it's own self-destruction.

While it appears the the "gentle" view died out with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, actually it arose under a low-profile. Durkheim noted that the division of labor and economic exchanges created obligations and duties, unintended ties that arise due to economic exchanges. But he commented that these ties were external and often fleeting. Simmel later added that capitalism has features that make for social integration rather than the opposite.

In the early US writings economic forces were rarely employed to explain social behavior. Even Parsons later on saw the prevention of fraudulent behavior through a collectivity-orientation that didn't arise out of the market.

Economists who have this softer view of capitalism have been unable to employ the positive integrative effects of the market, because this argument can't be made in the ideal market with perfect competition. Ties don't occur with instantaneous transactions among anonymous players.

Another criticism has been that capitalism hasn't been fully employed, and much of the previous feudalistic, elitism has remained intact. The previously powerful remain powerful. In this view capitalism has proven weak and not powerful enough to create the bergueois society it could lead to.

Tocqueville once said that "The great advantage of the Americans is that they have come to democracy without having to endure democratic revolutions; and that they were born equal, instead of becoming so".