Fundamental Values

Fundmental Values That Defines A Decent Society

One may judge various societies by the extent to which its members are able to enjoy these fundamental values Opens in new window and by the extent to which the majority of the population adheres spontaneously to them.

It also seems appropriate to apply these fundamental, widely held standards as a measuring rod to judge a particular government’s policies and actions.

Sets of such values are the norms by which institutions and policies Opens in new window are normally judged.

Policy makers sometimes adopt these values as explicit policy goals, even enshrining them in constitutions and political programs (programmes). However, it must be noted that fundamental values are not just abstract ends in themselves. They are always anchored in individual aspirations.

To be quite explicit: They are not some societal, communal goals that represent solely what the rulers want.

The fundamental values cannot be separated from what individual citizens – even the poorest – want. They must always reflect what the members in the community value highly and universally.

The high and universal preferences that we call fundamental values are often internalized. This means they have been deeply ingrained in the human psyche by practice and experience; they often influence behavior without explicit reflection.

The process of internalizing fundamental values probably begins with education at a young age. Similar to conventions such as honesty, they are practiced within the microcosm of the family before they are applied and refined in contact with the macrocosm of the wider community. They become part of culture Opens in new window and the identify of a society.

If the fundamental values Opens in new window of a society are shared strongly and consistently and—if necessary—are defended resolutely, they constitute a support for that society’s institutions, enhancing the chance of social order.

Comparisons of men’s fundamental beliefs and expectations with the DNA information that shapes the physical appearance of the body seem appropriate, as diverse human actions are guided by these universal preferences in the same manner n which the specifics of biological evolution are guided by invisible chromosomes.

Reasonably stable, universal values and beliefs make an intractably complex world more manageable for us.

They are therefore part of the social capital that enables the community to prosper thanks to the division of labor and growing material resources.

In that sense, fundamental values may be considered a production factor, which is often more important than physical items, such as machines or transport facilities. They underpin how smoothly the members of society cooperate.

The importance of fundamental values becomes also evident when we look at societies that do not share a commitment to them.

For example, parts of the Middle East are suffering from gross violations of peace and justice Opens in new window, and in numerous African societies personal security is endangered by ethnic and political violence, organized crime, high murder rates and repressive regimes; around the world, billions of people see their individual liberties curtailed by force and guile. This is of course a consequence of poor and poorly enforced institutions. It is related to poorly defined and defended fundamental values.

The relationship between human values and economic life is not a one-way street.

Communities with a prospering, open economy, in which most people are largely self-reliant, demand the defense (defence) of fundamental values (as Adam Smith already observed).

A prospering economy Opens in new window tends to form part of a social environment in which fundamental aspirations to freedom, justice, security and the like Opens in new window are constantly practiced, tested and asserted, so that they are held more firmly and uniformly.

This can be best seen when we observe what happens in economies that are not competitive and in societies that are subject to totalitarian rule Opens in new window, as is still the case in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of North Africa and the Middle East.

Here, subservience, dissimulation of basic aspirations and toleration of gross violations of basic values are common. The community’s institutions Opens in new window are then not well anchored in shared fundamental values.

When traditional, hitherto stationery societies are swept up by dynamic changes that carry them towards modernity (openness to trade and factor flows, openness to technical and social changes) often challenge engrained value systems, which derive from shared history, culture and mores, on which their social cohesion was built and which underpin the institutions (rules) of conduct.

In the social-science literature, the essential foundation for rules in the inherent values, traditions and customs of society is sometimes described by the term ‘metis’ (from Greek ‘inherited wisdom, skill and craft’).

In Stoic Greek philosophy, the term was given the meaning of prudence or wise counsel, and it is now used to signal caution against social engineering, that is, the imposition of external institutions that have no counterpart in a community’s tradition and informal social norms (Boettke et al., 2008).

A shared, deeply anchored set of values ensures that proposals for new rules and ways of doing things are not always readily accepted, but that the rule system is ‘sticky’ and path dependent.

Metis can be understood as a kind of social DNA that informs a society’s institutions. It may reject constructs, which do not mesh with it.

Some traditional societies have value systems that can be easily adapted to mesh with the ‘superstructure’ of a market economy; figuratively speaking they have or develop ‘Velcro surfaces’ that lock onto the Velcro surfaces’ of market capitalism.

Other societies are imbued with underlying value infrastructures, which are less adaptable or lend themselves less to adopting modern market institutions and therefore find it harder to realize modern economic growth and participation in the open, global civilization that is now evolving (Bauer, 2000). Imported rules, especially rules designed by outsiders often do not function well in coordinating behavior.

One of the legacies of totalitarian regimes with grossly discriminatory institutions and little economic freedom is that basic human values are held and practiced in a poorly defined manner.

The internal and external institutions are then not well supported by the citizens and few are prepared to defend them spontaneously when the rules are violated.