Nietzsche is perhaps the most misunderstood of philosophers, he is remembered for the praise of the ‘blood beast’ of his declining years, not the insights of his philosophy in his early years. As a skeptic philosopher he criticised his fellow philosophers for failing to understand the subject the nature of the subject they studied, man. His most potent criticism that all grand philosophies were fallible as they went contrary to the nature of man. One of his most trenchant attacks was on the notion of free will, he demonstrated that so many acts of criminals were predetermined so to punish them as if they had freely committed a criminal act was wrong. Similarly I want to conduct a skeptical or Nietzschian analysis of economics
What I want to contribute to the study is ‘satanic or demonic economics’, a new reading or interpretation of economics. The devil or Satan offers a wonderful tool for explaining the true nature of economic analysis. While I prefer to believe that we as individuals have sufficient potential for evil within ourselves; I cannot deny the value of having a demonic figure to explain the evils committed by men. Previously I have written of economists adopting a devil substitute to explain the failure of the perfect economic system, the free market. What I have realised since then is that it is the economist’s failure to recognise the existence of evil that has lead them to blunder into creating the most inhumane of human sciences.
There is a novel which demonstrates all too clearly the problem with contemporary economics. That novel is James Hogg’s ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’. Robert Colwan the anti hero of the novel fails to see that his companion and friend Gil-Martin is the devil. He is so blinded by his sense of self righteousness, that is his own sense of goodness, that he fails to see that Gil-Martin is leading him into committing acts that become progressively more and more evil, culminating in the murder of his brother. While James Hogg is poking fun at the intolerant lowland Scot’s Calvinists who would abolish fun if they had the power, his book contains a fundamental truth. Those who don’t acknowledge the existence of evil usually go on to commit evil, because they are blind to the existence of evil. The German bureaucrats who sent millions to the gas chambers could do so because their only concern was to make the German railway system run efficiently. The fate that awaited millions of Jews was irrelevant. What Bauman discovered about the behaviour of German railway officials could not unfairly be applied to the current generation of economists. They as with the German bureaucrats only want to make the system run efficiently, they have no concern about the consequences of their actions for their fellow men.
Economists have always argued that their subject is a social science not a moral science. They claim that by excluding value judgements from their analysis they can offer the objective analysis which delivers the answers to the problems that bedevil mankind. What they fail to recognise by committing themselves to a self declared moral blindness they cannot recognise the inhumanity and evil of their language and practice. The only fair comparison I can make is the psychopath who is unable to develop human empathy because they have been damaged so severely by their dysfunctional upbringing that they are incapable of moral empathy. Economists similarly have so damaged by their study and practice of economics that they are also incapable of moral empathy.
The model that economists wished to emulate was that of the natural sciences. Its success had been due to the adoption of the scientific method and the exclusion of any value judgements that predetermined the answer. Scientific study had progressed little until religion stopped determining the answers to any scientific investigation. Bishop Usher had calculated that the earth was created in 4004 BC from his study of chronology of events listed in the bible. This effectively prevented the development of earth sciences until non-Christian scientists such as Darwin and Huxley demonstrated this was untrue as the earth evolved over millions of years. Economists wished to achieve the same standard of impartial enquiry that prevailed in the natural sciences. What they ignored was that economics is a human science and that if considerations humanity are removed from the study all that is left is a science of inhumanity. The consequences of which can be appalling.
One subject that has been a constant topic for study by British economists has been the low productivity of the British economy. By excluding any considerations of human welfare, they were able to come up with a number of ‘objective’ solutions. They identified the cause of low productivity as an under performing and dysfunctional labour market. There were too many restrictions on the use of labour which limited its efficiency. Employment protection legislation, health and safety legislation together with over powerful trade unions prevented its efficient use. What they saw was not a people who had legitimate rights as regards fair wages and a safe working environment, but a multitude of dysfunctional workers who needed to be subject to the harsh realities of the market to turn them into productive human resources. People are not people, they are the labour and they only right they should have is to be used productively. Fortunately for economists all governments since 1979 have seen the benefit of a utilitarian approach to labour. Employment protection and health and safety legislation have been so effectively emasculated that employers need have little concern about them impeding their exploitation of their workers. Trade unions have been so weakened that with a few exceptions they are of no concern to employers.
What has been created in Britain since 1979 is a low cost flexible labour force that is attractive to business. Consequently Britain has recorded one of the sharpest rises in employment in Europe during the economic recovery that has occurred since the crash of 2009. Labour is cheap to hire and easy to dispose of, so employers are willing to take on staff, knowing that they cost little and can be disposed of easily if the market takes a downturn. All this increase in employment has been at the expensive of productivity as its has lead to the growth of low cost industries, warehousing, call centres that require little investment as plentiful cheap labour is available. Cheap people rather than expensive investment. The misery of zero hours contracts, split shifts or low wages is of no consequence to the economist, as they are merely signs that the market is working efficiently in making good use of unemployed labour. What is most matters for them is that the employer able to use labour as cheaply or efficiently as possible.
Economists never speak of the need for fair wages, security of employment, good housing or free health care. As the value of the sense of well being from a fair income etc. cannot be priced so the
Its ignored. The economic calculus that is calculating the benefit derived from human activity can only calculate benefit in quantitive not qualitative terms. The economist has an opt out from moral judgements, it the market can make decisions about what people want and need, so such decisions about health care provision should be left to the market. However this ignores the dysfunctional nature of the market, as billionaires can pay more for their health care than can the poor, the market will provide excellent health care for the rich and minimal health care for the poor as the latter will make little money. Yet as economics is a subject devoid of morality economists would never be concerned with the poor being deprived of health care, as with the German railway officials human misery caused by their actions are not their concern.
Lacking any understanding of morality economists are prey to a diverse number of Gil-Martins. that economists have no conception of morality, I mean public morality, they lack any conception of the common good. They are not lacking any conception of private morality,I’m sure many economists are good fathers and mothers.) These Gil-Martins are the wealthy businessmen and large corporations that endow university professorships or fund think tanks. As economists lack any moral sensibility they are easy to corrupt, promoting schemes that will benefit their benefactors. While there are numerous economists advocating the benefits of free enterprise, that is a lack of regulation which benefits the large corporations, as treating people well costs money, there are few that argue the benefits of a strong regulatory state.
Perhaps it would be wrong to call economists the ‘devil’s spawn’, such harsh language is not suitable for these civilised times. Yet economics is the ‘demonic science’ as the policy recommendations of its practitioners always increase human misery. Can anybody recall any economist ever speaking out for fair wages or security of tenure for private rental tenants. In fact the latter is anathema to economists as they believe that security of tenure impedes the mobility of labour as people are reluctant to give up the security of their existing tenancy for uncertain accommodation prospects in an area were there is work. If secure social housing tenancies are destroyed in Newcastle, there will be nothing to prevent the unemployed in Newcastle moving to jobs in the prosperous Thames valley, as they will be swapping one insecure tenancy for another. Ever since its inception economists have been campaigning against the National Health Service (NHS) as its providing of free care care at the point of use, which is contrary to the fundamentals of good economics. Free service encourages over use they claim,* if a service is priced people will only use it if they really want it, that way the correct distribution of resources is achieved as only those willing to pay for a service will use it. Services free of price are used wastefully, therefore the NHS must go. Economists are like so many Robert Colwans plotting the demise of a much loved health service, rather than a much loved brother. From the point of view of this theologian any human science that lacks any conception of the good can only practice evil. This is why using the concept of the devil as an explanatory tool is so useful in understanding contemporary economics, as evil infects all its economic analysis, medieval Christians were wiser than use in seeing the devil constantly at work in society.
*It is intriguing that economists tend to view ill health as a product of free service revision at not a risk that occurs naturally to human beings.
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