… is from page 455 of the final (2016) volume – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre McCloskey’s pioneering trilogy on the essence of bourgeois values, on their transmission, and on their essential role in modern life:
But businesspeople in the quattrocento as much as now want to be good, no less than politicians or priests or professors do, and indeed the businesspeople have the moral luck to be in situations daily where good and bad are obvious and the results clear. A rotten order of fish served in his restaurant has a more immediate result for the bourgeois owner than a rotten set of ideas offered up by the thoughtlessly antibourgeois professor. True, the earnest businesspeople often fail in their ethical projects, as fallen humans do. Yet so do the politicians, priests, and professors.
My only reservation about this quotation is that I believe that most businesspeople are not merely the beneficiaries of what Deirdre here calls “moral luck.” A self-selection process is at work in society. Most businesspeople choose, and remain in, careers in private business because they have a less-intense itch to order others about than do most people who choose, and remain in, careers in politics. And to survive in politics, even those people who have that itch must also be good at scratching it while in the political arena, otherwise they get weeded out. Individuals with fewer scruples about lying, trimming, scheming, stealing, and threatening violence on others tend to succeed in politics better than do people who have real moral qualms about such anti-social behaviors.