The Occupy movements in London and Wall Street have stimulated international debate surrounding the concentration of wealth and moral standing of modern markets. The demonstrations indicate a renewed interest in the need to reconnect the financial with the ethical, calling not just the City to account, but also the foundational assumptions of modern economic theory.
As part of our work on the grounding of markets into human, relational processes, ResPublica took this opportunity to explore ongoing transformations of the market economy and the timely opportunity to re-instil 'values' amidst value, in the City and beyond.
Reverend Dr Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral
Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford and author of 'Compassionate Economics'
Professor Lord Robert Skidelsky, author of 'How Much is Enough? The Economics of the Good Life' (forthcoming)
Professor John Milbank, Director of the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham and Chair, The ResPublica Trust
Maggie Pagano, City Editor, The Independent on Sunday
The financial sector no longer serves the “common good”
There was a
shared view amongst the panellists that the financial sector no longer served
the “common good” – a key driver, all agreed, of the recent Occupy protests.
Making reference to Dr. Adrian Pabst’s article, “The Resurgence of the Civic”,
Professor John Milbank argued that the protesters were rebelling in the name of
the “common good”, not, unlike many other forms of protest, as representatives
of a particular group striving only for a particular good.
Skidelsky argued that David Cameron’s actions in Brussels last week
demonstrated that he was there representing the interests of the financial
elite, not the “common good” that is Britain’s wider economic interests.
Giles Fraser, a collaborator in the St. Paul’s Institute’s provocative report, “Value and Values: Perceptions of Ethics in the City Today”, expressed that there must be a continuous mission to return
ethical values to modern markets. Drawing on his experience of the Occupy LSX
protests, he argued that there is now a renewed interest in calling central
bodies to account, which has sent a shock-wave throughout the City, amidst
politicians and citizens across Britain.
MP, author of the book Compassionate
Economics, and the recently published paper, “The Case for Real Capitalism”,
in many senses echoed Giles Fraser’s sentiment. Jesse Norman argued that in
many ways the financial services sector has come to represent an unsavoury form
of “crony capitalism” – a type of capitalism that has detached itself from
public interest. Jesse Norman bemoaned the fact that people who know nothing
about banks had come to run them, and that while banks were often “too big to
fail”, they are often also “too big to manage”.
Are markets intrinsically moral? What is the appropriate “nature”
markets are, or have the potential to be, “intrinsically” moral stimulated much
debate amongst the panellists. Professor John Milbank argued that morals
should, were, and can be again, intrinsic to the way that capitalism works.
However, Lord Robert Skidelsky, argued that markets are neither ethical or
un-ethical: ethics lie largely outside of the capitalist system, but can be
utilised in order to reform it. Skidelsky argued that today’s crisis hadn’t
been caused by a “moral crisis”, but a “market crisis”. He asserted instead
that inherent within capitalism is the promotion of “wants” over “needs”.
stated that we have witnessed a transition from a “thick society” to a “thin
society”. Although “thick societies” can reveal their own dangers (for example,
low levels of diversity could produce low levels of tolerance), Giles thought
that such societies were critical for facilitating the pursuit of the common
good. He argued that within “thinner societies”, which could be used to
describe Britain’s society today, tolerance of the differing conceptions of the
“good life” is fairly high – but he warned subsequently that because there is
now a lack of a “common language”, it is becoming increasingly difficult to
construct a “common good”.
John Milbank argued that we have experienced a “de-moralised crisis”, where the
“bonds of trust” between individuals have become increasingly disintegrated.
Milbank argued that for markets to operate they must be based on “trust based
relations”, meaning that the dislocation between capital and place inherent
within globalization could mean that there are natural limits to the dynamic
nature of modern capitalism: have we reached a crisis point?