By Liam McCaffrey
So often we are told that the life that we share, particularly in the West, while technologically rich, lacks a basic sense of purpose or meaning. For some, this critique of contemporary life is levied from a position of traditional religiosity. For others, this is more of an aesthetic claim about the loss of genius and the birth of traditional art or a critique on the focus of material gains.
This sort of claim requires a juxtaposition against historical eras. In a sense, a trajectory away from shared values of meaning has been clear since the birth of the modern era. The emergence of secular states meant a disaffiliation from religious institutions in society’s structure and, consequently, in our everyday lives. When a system of metaphysical belief and moral values loses its stranglehold on our minds, we tend to drift into individuation where we pick and choose our own beliefs and values. But as when we’re examining any deceased but formerly popular ideology (as we do with racism and sexism), it is naïve to think that such a well-supported belief will dissipate without any vestiges.
A vestige that remains in human thought from the classical period is that we have some kind of binding civic duties. In political philosophy, there has been much debate about what these duties are. Now, this debate is self-adorning on the fringe of society, rather than pushing society forward. After the 2008 recession, a new kind of binding purpose emerged that we have failed to effectively challenge.
Two elections were won with this ideology for the Conservative Party. There is a kind of mantra that currently haunts our political discourse, namely: “We need a strong economy.” This discourse is only part of the story. This statement has become the ‘abracadabra’ that political magicians shout as they strip away funding from humanities, charities and public services.
Economy is becoming a new kind of religion. The interesting thing about global economics is that the economy is a manmade system that exists by definition to preserve human interests. However, the economy is now being treated like an onmipresent organism of irreducible complexity. You can take actions that either harm or help the economy and everything you do impacts it. It is an economic sin to be unemployed or an artist and it is the greatest virtue to be an entrepreneur, an angel acting under the watchful eye of archangel Adam Smith (the Jesus of capitalism).
While words like ‘socialism’ seem to be bandied about freely, a credible debate in the UK about economic philosophy is failing to materialise. Neoliberalism is rife across not just UK politics, but all reputable economic think tanks. People who stand in favour of any alternative economic system are seen as wishful thinking. While many millennial parents bemoan that the new generation understands the cost of everything but the value of nothing, it is their peers that are running an economy that reflects such a nature.
Serving the economy is being done at the cost of every other value. Gone are the days of Keynesian economics. Today, we are being led by a generation that has never owned a ration book. They have become cavalier, assuming that societal stability is a condition inherent in people rather than the result of policy invested in equality. We have dulled our critical senses, conforming to the notion that appeasement of the economy God will lead to a trickle-down effect. However, the golden shower of supply-side economics has failed to deliver.
The economy is not a God. Were it God it would be the jealous and exacting God of the Hebrew Scriptures, rather than the pious and magnanimous deity of the New Testament. We need to realise that equality is not conjured through the work of miracles; it requires rigorous policy that is committed to distributing wealth equally not just domestically but globally.
We should not be servant to the economy, it is the economy’s job to serve us. It is we who have to consider how we can make changes to the public conversation so that it sees equality as a real-life, necessary aspiration rather than a pipe dream. Where we have the opportunity to elect or support a politician who makes an honest stand for equality we must do so. It’s time for a radical shift away from economic orthodoxy. It’s time for us to opt for apostasy.
Do you agree? How is the economy likely to fair under the new Prime Minister? Send your thoughts to email@example.com