Economics and the Moral Law

scabeater, moral and economic law

Policy discussions often seem to operate according to one priciple: to achieve a goal as cheaply as possible in order to be voted in again. Now, a pragmatist might say that this approach saves money and helps people, so what is the problem?

The problem is that this dehumanises us, all of us, that live under a government. We are no longer people with needs, problems, and aspirations, we are merely economic beings with a worth defined by how much money we can give in tax or consume in state goods such as health or benefits. And this attitude is what leads to the discourse that allows people to call others benefit-scroungers or job-stealers. Benefit scroungers are simply thieves, not people who have difficulties finding jobs and who face very human struggles. Job-stealers are not people with aspirations and work ethics, but satanic foreigners who are craftily taking what are ‘rightfully’ British jobs.

Now of course there must be cost-benefit analysis in policy decisions. The problem is that these days this is seemingly all that policy discussions are about, and therefore the moral consequences of economic decisions are forgotten. A cut to the NHS is a policy of austerity that will – supposedly – lead to our increased economic well-being. But does that justify the people that will die because of those cuts? And I am not exaggerating, this is the consequence. Does a cut in benefits justify the suffering of families it will inevitably cause?

The response could be that in the long-term economic policies that supposedly lead to growth will leave us all better off. Let’s leave aside the plausibility of that – I’m sceptical – and let’s even assume – I’m even more sceptical – that the increased money from growth would be actually be distributed equally in society. We are still left with the fact that when push comes to shove money, not humanity, makes the final decision. Economics seems to be the morality of our age, and that, to my mind, simply can’t be right.

Photograph by Scabeater, via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

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