I was surprised and a bit confused by the point that William F. Buckley tried to make in his Aug. 14 op-ed column on Frank Lorenzo.

Although I don't claim to be a fan of Mr. Lorenzo, one must recognize that he seized entrepreneurial opportunities when they became available. Within the bounds set by the legal system, he temporarily killed a dying airline and eventually brought it back to life as a business entity. That he is now selling his position in this airline is an example of how the invisible hand of market discipline is enforcing its decision that he should no longer be the steward of those business assets.

Other shareholders were free to do with their shares as they wished. Any losses incurred by sticking with a Lorenzo-run airline resulted from risks they accepted when they made their investments.

The purpose of the market is not to judge intent; rather it is to judge the soundness of economic decisions. In the so-called capitalist system, the individual owner of property -- be that physical, financial or human resource -- is at liberty to dispose of that property as he or she sees fit. As long as a legal framework protects other property owners against fraud and the use of force, this system is the best for promoting socially beneficial economic activity.

Unfortunately, the capitalist system of economic and political freedom can flourish in a variety of social systems. For example, capitalism could be implemented along with a social Darwinian system under which those who do not succeed (and hence cannot feed, clothe or house themselves) are left to die. The economic system of capitalism does not require any particular form of altruistic moral behavior for it to work.

It would seem to me that Mr. Buckley should stress a different point: for capitalism to sustain a benevolent culture, it is important that society be grounded in a firm moral foundation in which righteous behavior is elevated. The statement that "the problem with capitalism is capitalists" is not true. Rather the problem with some capitalists is that they lack a solid moral foundation in their lives.

STEVEN C. ISBERG Assistant Professor of Finance University of Baltimore Baltimore