John Templeton’s fifth economic virtue is integrity. He outlined this and the other economic virtues and vices in his speech to Buena Vista College, “The Religious Foundation of Liberty and Enterprise.”
The final economic virtue is the most important: it is integrity. In the Old Testament, we find many references to the uses of property. Most deal with the ethics of its use. And the rules all come down to personal integrity. Pay your debts. Don’t cheat your neighbor. Don’t use false weights and measures. Keep your financial commitments.
Not paying one’s debts is a form of stealing. The creditor who extends a service is making a contract. Not paying that creditor on the agreed terms is a violation of contract. It takes another’s property without rightly restoring it in the agreed upon time.
Similarly, laborers should practice diligence in their work habits. Goofing off, too, is a form of theft, just as hard work is the practice of exercising integrity.
An individual who makes too many promises, and cannot keep them all, is not acting with integrity. But a person who keeps commitments, and deals honestly with others, is practicing this fifth economic virtue of integrity.
The market economy depends for its survival on the personal integrity of those acting within it. People who don’t act with integrity are also punished by the mechanism of the market. Credit will not be extended, for example.
Governments, too, can practice the virtue of integrity. We have gotten used to governments that run high deficits. Every day we hear about politicians that do not tell the truth about the state of the nation’s finances. Inflating the currency away through unsound political practices is a form of changing weights and measures.
An economically virtuous government will not do these things. Instead, it will insist on practicing the kind of integrity that religious faith expects from individuals.
Nothing can kill economic liberty like a widespread lack of personal integrity. Over time, people stop trusting others. When you cannot trust your neighbor, you cannot trade with him. Enterprise comes to a halt.
But when people do what they say they will do, and deal honestly, then you have a moral foundation for economic growth. The society can then flourish economically and morally.