We are behaviourally programmed to cooperate with others in some circumstances and to compete with and take advantage of (exploit) them in other circumstances. Countless examples immediately spring to mind. When this programming evolved, the circumstances in which they applied were fairly clear cut: within the (extended) family group, notwithstanding a certain amount of rivalry in establishing the pecking order, one always cooperated; anyone outside the group was a rival for resources and a potential enemy.
Modern society (in the form of the state) has replaced both our own group, with which we are inclined to cooperate, and the natural environment (with an artificial socio-economic environment), where we struggle for survival and advantage, ruthlessly exploiting all the opportunities available, thus causing a great deal of stress and confusion, and, because of the lack of clarity between "them and us", accounting for most crime and anti-social behaviour.
This essay is still very much under construction
At the same time, in many ways it has also replaced the family group, with which evolution programmed us to cooperate. Thus, we switch back and forth within the same environment between competitive-exploitative and cooperative behaviour. We cooperate in the work place, where we are organised into private companies, public enterprises etc., which are then supposed to compete with one another. As individuals, family groups, and companies we are continually seeking to take advantage of the entire socio-economic environment. Which is why the welfare state is so misconceived. It is there to take advantage of, which is what many people then do, of course. And why not? An aristocrat, or some other wealthy person, will live off unearned income, so why shouldn't someone at the other end of the social scale live off benefits? They are all behaving as nature intended them to: exploiting their socio-economic environment.
The socio-economic order in which we live is deeply rooted in our animal nature - which in view of what Darwin is supposed to have taught us about our origins, should hardly surprise us. Our capitalist, free-market economy developed and has been honed to exploit our animal nature (fear, greed, competitiveness, our interest in cheap or free lunches, in sex, power, social status, etc.). Attempts have been made to make society and the economy more just, humane, less damaging to the environment, and some improvements have been achieved. However, because rooted in our animal nature, our growth-dependent economy and materialistic way of life are inherently unjust and inhumane, and fundamentally unsustainable.
What we have to do is create an alternative socio-economic order, comprising a "moral market economy" and far less materialistic ways of life, rooted in our more enlightened, human nature.
The idea is not new (I've just done a Google search for "moral market economy", which came up with 89 hits); the difficulty is in its realisation. Elements of a "moral market economy" already exist in such forms as "fair trade", organic agriculture, renewable energy, recyclable products and materials, etc., but at the moment these are relatively insignificant niche segments in the existing free market, subject to and distorted by its amoral market forces (rooted ultimately in our animal nature). Thus, the alternative needs to be distinct from the existing economic order, subject to "moral market forces" rather than to amoral ones.
The "moral economy" will be a "non-exploitative" economy. Admittedly, this is very hard for most people, particularly conventional economists, politicians, or business people, even to imagine, because they are so wrapped up in their primitive, more animal than human ideas of how a competitive, market economy and the companies that comprise it, work. Initially they will just laugh and tell me that I'm being ridiculously and impractically idealistic, but once their blinkers have come off and they see what is at stake, they will realise that the idea of a moral, non-exploitative economy comes from man's more enlightened, human nature, in the context of which it ceases to be ridiculously or impractically.
It will be an economy based on cooperation rather than competition, and on transparency rather than secrecy.
The enterprises which comprise the moral economy will be democratically organised cooperatives the principle aim of which will not be making as much money as possible (as in our present, amoral economy), but providing useful goods and services for a sustainable society, and satisfying work for their staff, who will be paid fair and proportionate wages (e.g. the highest paid member will not receive more than 2 or 3 or 4 or . . . certainly not more than 10 times what the lowest paid member does for the same time).
The "moral economy" needs people with ideals, skills and capital, united by the desire to create an alternative, fair, humane and sustainable socio-economic order.
The "moral economy" will be based not on "free trade", but on "fair trade". Trade for the benefit of all, not for the profit of a few. Not trade for its own sake, i.e. for the sake of making money, but for the sake of moral economic and social sense.
Who decides what is moral? I do - at least as far as my vision of a moral economy is concerned.
It will be based on fair and proportionate income differentials: there will be a minimum and a maximum wage. It is difficult deciding exactly where the line should be drawn, but my suggestion is that the maximum wage (income) should be no greater than 10 times the minimum wage.
There will have no place for social or economic parasites. Everyone will be expected to contribute positively to society and to take no more than a fair and proportionate share in return.