Thursday, May 28, 2009


Marquand's Analysis Correct but no Route to Needed 'Moral Reform' Offered

This expenses scandal has taken our eye off the wider social malaise which underlies the much more important financial crisis which will bear more immediately on our lives than any squalid fiddling by our MPs. So the article by David Marquand yesterday, merits some close attention. He argues that all over Europe, people feel betrayed by the state but should also look at their own ideas and behaviour.

He points out that ther 'neo-liberal' period of economic orthodoxy inculcated a particular view of materialism:

According to it[neo-liberalism], the unhindered, ­rationally calculated ­pursuit of ­individual self interest in free, competitive markets was not just economically efficient, but also morally right. Individuals were, by definition, the only competent judges of their own interests. Only if they were set free to pursue them as they saw fit would they become autonomous moral agents. ­Collectivist interference would turn them, in ­Margaret Thatcher's famous phrase, into "moral cripples".

This vision of the moral economy was enormously powerful, and enormously seductive. It bathed the flagrant ­disparities of reward that marked the neoliberal era in the odour of sanctity. It told the ultra-rich that they were ­morally entitled to their riches.

Marquand believes the influence of neo-liberalism extended beyond the tight and privileged circle of the very rich and led to profligate spending by society at large on houses, credit cards and the like.

voters who thought they were morally entitled to ever-rising living standards without effort on their part, were all playing at the gaming tables of the ­neoliberals' casino capitalism.

I think he's right and that we have all been more than a little hypocrtical in condemning MPs for behaviour many of us would have joined in had we had the chance.
Marquand concludes that 'we, the "people"' are also part of the problem, that

'the real culprit is the hyper-individualistic, materialistic hedonism of the entire culture, popular at least as much as elite.

So 'moral reform' must be the precursor to any genuine and lasting change for the better. I do so agree and Marquand's critique is both perceptive and abasolutely correct. The only problem is- how do we achieve this 'moral reform'? The philosopher has no advice on this to offer. And in this way, I fear, the really fundamental problem of our times is defined.

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