Your banker has it…

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?


  1. Bill Hughes -

    Very interesting, didn’t Adam Smith and Karl Marx have a few words to say too?

    1. Peter May -

      I’m not sure that either anticipated that the financial sector would be so all powerful as it now is.
      And nor that by writing off the banks debts instead of those of the actual banks’ debtors governments ensure banks hang on to their power.
      I fear that very many smallish companies (SME’s) may keel over in the next year and that may cause wobbles in the banking sector. If government feels obliged to support banks again – they have both toppled small companies causing lots of job losses and then also had to support the banks.
      Could all have been avoided if proper grants had been offered to the SME’s in the first place..

  2. Andrew -

    To get etymological, the English word “economy” (earlier “oeconomy”) comes from the Greek “οἰκονομία” – literally, the management of the household – from “οἶκος” (house) and “νέμειν” (to manage). (See OED.)

    It has long been used to refer to the administration or management of a body – the OED has a citation from 1598 for “the Oeconomie of one or more Nations” –;view=fulltext – but the sense of “the economy” as shorthand for “the business and financial system of a country” comes much later, as you say, as late as the 19th century.

    Interesting how the household analogy is baked into the very language.

  3. Peter May -

    You mean to say my original efforts have failed!
    I tried to highlight the origins of the Greek word itself to get away from the household!
    Oikos (οἶκος)- which means family, family property or the family house Nomos (νόμος)- which means law, order or justice.
    If we treat society as a large family – then the economy is pretty much family law! Certainly shows how important law is to any functioning economy….

    1. Andrew -

      I’m sorry, I don’t remember the 2017 post, and I suspect your Greek is better than mine, but the OED says English “economy” comes from Middle French “yconomie, economie”, and French “économie, †oeconomie”, and classical Latin “oeconomia” (later “economia, yconomia, iconomia”), which come from ancient Greek “οἰκονομία”, from οἰκονόμος (oeconomus, house-steward), which itself derives from οἶκος (house) and “-νόμος” (from νέμειν, to deal, distribute, hold, manage).

      As I understand it, “νόμος” (law) comes from the same root. So perhaps we are both right!

      1. Peter May -

        You’re not supposed to remember – I was being facetious.
        I had only a pretty vague memory myself of something I thought I’d said!
        I’m sure we are both right… words slip and slide and elide as they say – so definitely change meaning over time. And I can assure you that my Greek is literally ancient and, forced to learn it, I detested every minute! I’m just about able to read it now and that’s it – if it weren’t for the OED my vocab would be zero…

      2. Andrew -

        See, I told you your Greek was better than mine 🙂 I was never formally taught it at all, but I have picked up bits and pieces along the way, and transliteration is not too difficult (I struggle more with Cyrillic, although a bit of Greek helps there).

        There is also the similar (false friend, I think) Latin “nomen” (name), similar to Greek “ὄνομᾰ”.

        Compare “taxonomy” and “nomenclature”, for example.

      3. Charles Adams -

        I agree the eco- means house and -nomic mean ‘law’, so we might call it house rules. Another twist is that Aristotle used the word “oikonomia” to refer to the “art of living well”

  4. Peter May -

    I’m impressed!

  5. Charles Adams -

    One point that is made powerfully by lockdown is that we do a lot of stuff that is unnecessary but it does contributes to economic activity. We also neglect a lot of stuff that is more necessary than we realised which could contribute. So you would hope that we might learn to do more of the necessary and less of unnecessary.

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