David Graeber has been having a few words on the economy with Al Jazeera and expanding on his previous ideas.
I agree with his view that the ‘Economy’ is a really recent invention (in large measure it was John Stewart Mill, who at least actually called it the ‘Political Economy‘). After all he says, Shakespeare never mentioned it, and since, like Jacob Ress-Mogg, my Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is for ever at my side, I can confirm that there are indeed no mentions of ‘the Economy’ either from Shakespeare or indeed pretty much anyone else. Indeed as if to chasten me for looking at all the principal entry for ‘the Economy’ is from ‘1066 and all that’…
In fact the first political manifesto to mention the economy was that of the Liberal Party in 1945 when it was referred to as the ‘national economy’, which still implies servitude to the nation. 75 years later we now know it is we who are in service to the Economy, which of course now needs opening up for all our benefits…
David Graeber rightly suggests this ‘need’ is not true, we have managed not to starve and still mostly care for each other (even house the homeless) with no greater difficulty than when the economy is entirely ‘open’.
He suggests that restaurants and theatres are just life, not the economy! And he certainly has a point – but they are part of economic activity and it is what some people will mean by ‘opening the economy’. I think he really means that careless talk costs real change.
He delightfully concludes that opening the economy is really so that the ‘morality of work’ can carry on as before largely in order that the important ‘morality of debt’ can be continued. Debt he suggests comprises finance – getting the gambling on the financial markets going again – and, importantly too, the wealthy collecting their debts and rents from the rest of us.
This really is demonstrating the truth of the answer to what happened to the oft promised 20 or 30 hour week; “I think you’ll find that your banker has it”. Covid-19 has also shown us that working less is generally quite good for the environment. I think that the banker’s share is looking vulnerable.
Of course sadly, Sunak has already set much businesses up for failure by offering crisis loans and not grants as I have pointed out before. This does not suggest anything close to prosperity for most and if loans cannot in the end be paid the ‘morality of debt’ may finally be shown to be closer to the immorality of lending.
We may not quite have discovered it yet but most essentials in life are not profit generating and many of those that do are, post Covid-19, rather unlikely to generate enough to feed the financiers as well.
If the banks then need bailing out once more will government still be able to disguise where this money stuff comes from?