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Monday, 21 March 2011

The Story of Economics

The BBC is running a three-part documentary, The Story of Economics
It started well with a routine by a Greek Professor explaining Aristotle’s distinction between use value and exchange value, a distinction that Marx was to adapt to his critique of political economy.
Apparently Aristotle saw the activities of those who engaged in exchange based trade as morally suspect. This provided the programme's cue  to fast forward a few thousand years to deliver a familiar ‘credit-crunch-as-morality-tale ’ of today’s  crisis of capitalism. I was disappointed the documentary unfolded this way. I wanted to hear a discussion of what Marx has in mind in his account of use vs exchange value and how this differs from Aristotle's. The moral critique of the credit crunch has been played out time and time again.

Okay, such an approach illuminates interesting arguments, eg – whether the axiom‘greed is good’ became (remains) normalised and the dileterious effect of normalised greed on liberalism’s own moral aims (justice, equality etc). But it tells only a partial story.
One characteristic of the post-metaphysical world is morality’s absence, morality’s power to prevent inhumanity is limited, it is also constantly eroded by, for example, instrumental forms of technical knowledge.
Humans do share a capacity for mutual recognition that supports ethical self understanding. And normativity plays a role that is both funcitonal in its capacity to bind people and critical in that it enables the adoption of strong justificatory positions against those who seek to mistreat or dominate. I’m with Habermas on this. But morality is limited in its capacity to prevent cunts from doing shitty things to people. Morality fails, it breaks down
A further example of the type of task to which the moral category has been applied (and is not sufficient) is the credit crunch.
This crisis is not only financial but also a crisis of bourgoeise democracy. Exorbitant wages do have an impact on equality and liberals ought to thrash this out.  The normalised rent seeking behaviour of individuals working in the financial system ought to be open to moral critique. If there was such a thing as economic democracy then bankers would be forced to justify their behaviour. Laws might be put in place, or at least retained, regardless of what financiers or the CBI think in order to prevent further harms.  There are aspects of the financial crisis that lend themselves to moral critique.
I will be tuning in to the following episodes to see if the BBC addresses the other ways it might be possible to critique this present crisis of capitalism.

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