People Treasure Morality Over Economic Efficiency & Killing
According to mainstream neoclassical economics, people act based on selfishness and not based on morality. The antiwar protests show how badly mistaken that old viewpoint was, yet the mainstream still does not realize it. Here, a leading think tank in the United Kingdom points out the plain truth.
(This guest editorial comes from the New Economics Foundation.)
"It's no longer the economy, stupid"
The fact that a million or so people can take to the streets of London to protest against an attack on Iraq is more significant than simple old politics.
It was, of course, an unprecedented expression of national will – though that may not be significant in itself: there are many political actions we might reasonably shrink from just because so many people want them. No, it was more significant as a statement of scepticism. People look at the great assurances of their leadership class – about anything from MMR vaccine, BSE and uranium-tipped bullets to intelligence dossiers that turned out to be nothing of the kind – and they just don’t believe them any more.
This is serious for the future, because it means that the vital power of governments to advise and reassure has been whittled away to almost nothing. Someday soon, we might need an authoritative voice and it won’t be there.
But even more significant is the confirmation of one of the central tenets of the New Economics – that people are motivated as much by morality as by what Harold Wilson used to call ‘the pound in your pocket’.
Over a million people went to considerable expense to spend a day in London shuffling along in the extreme cold, not to support a dictator like Saddam Hussein, but because the American plan for killing is wrong in its effects on ordinary people, on the region and on the rule of international law.
The idea that people are purely motivated by marginal differences in self-interest was probably never true, but it certainly isn’t true now.
Of course they may behave exactly like that for many decisions, but not – as economists would have it – just for marginal benefits in money, but also in time, in love, in well-being and much else besides. But there is one thing that a sizeable minority of modern populations simply cannot stand: they cannot bear being morally compromised, and will do almost anything to prevent it.
Many people side-step this experience simply with self-delusion; but increasingly, many people don’t. The implications of this for the future of economics are profound: it is another nail in the coffin of the fantasy of economics divorced from ethics.
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