Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Moral Markets are Freer Markets"

Wow. All kinds of good stuff in here, a speech by a Prof. John Milbank from the UK. I believe he's associated with Philip Blond's Red Toryism.

Some money quotes:

What is really going on is the question of the institution, the question of the capitalist firm. Likewise the question of government institutions - itʼs the same problem. [...] Because you might say, okay, if we see the importance of the firm, then we see the importance of human collaboration after all, but [no:] the trouble is that our entire inherited economic model is based upon atomic individualism and utilitarianism, there is no question about this, the entire discipline of economics, the way it shapes government policy, itʼs based on the idea that basically we are all self seeking individuals mainly concerned about our material welfare and trying to maximise our utility. So the switch of economics to looking at the firm has tried to read the firm still in individualist, utilitarian kinds of terms. This means then that firms canʼt trust their employees, they have to try to manipulate them because actually acting collectively will benefit them individually, but theyʼre not necessarily going to see that, so we have this culture of incentives, bonuses, checking up on people, endlessly employing people to check out other employees, this goes on throughout the capitalist economy, it also goes on throughout governmental institutions, itʼs absolutely key to the way that new Labour has operated. It is assuming, using public choice theory, that basically individuals will always be putting themselves first and be out to exploit the firm theyʼre in. Now my case is that this has totally screwed up the working of civil society and itʼs rather screwed up the workings of the economy and itʼs finally led to the total breaking down of any element of a trust culture...

The market would actually be freer if it was a moral market, is the kind of argument that is now being made, and in a funny kind of way this is even more critical of capitalism than most socialisms are, because both state socialism, even some forms of associationary socialism, have been wedded to the self seeking utilitarian individual. In practice they havenʼt said enough about fraternity. They havenʼt said enough about the primacy of reciprocity, about the primacy of people seeking personal interaction as being the whole point of human existence[.] [T]his is not ethical fantasy, it is also economic realism, this is the whole point of going for the big society and subordinating government and the market to the big society instead of the situation we have at the moment where government and market are both in collusion in pursuing both governmental power and the utilitarian welfare of the individual.

(More about the "big society" idea of David Cameron here.)