Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is the economy too important to be left to the economists?

"The questions that the book leaves us with are, I think, primarily these: What kind of culture have we allowed to develop? Not only the subculture of financial institutions and money makers, but the culture in which that happens, the whole culture of our society. What are the sorts of behaviour we reward?

"What are the kinds of human beings we want to see around, that we've encouraged to be around? And that's certainly one of the issues that's come up very sharply in these conversations. Have we not begun to create a kind of human being, whose default setting is really profoundly selfish, profoundly introverted? And how on earth do we build a society on that kind of basis?

"So the questions about culture run very deep. They are questions about what we think is worthwhile in human behaviour. And unless we really tackle that kind of question, really revive our imagination about what human beings might be and should be, then the whole of our economic structure will not really change.

"Culture change begins, as one contributor to the book says, with behavioural change. And behavioural change begins with a change of vision, a change of horizon. So that the subsidiary question is, not only what have we taught people to value and reward, but what have we taught people to aim at? Have we shrunk their possibilities? Have we drawn in their horizon in a trivial way, a way that does less than justice to what human beings are really capable of?

"The authors of this book ask that question, fully conscious of the way in which the level of reward in the financial sector in recent years has been so enormous as to obscure ethical considerations quite a lot. But it's proved not to be an endless pot of resource, it's proved to be a path of self-contradictory and essentially destructive behaviour in practice.

"We need to recovery integrity, we need to recover a sense of the connection between economics and other things; and that's perhaps the other big question that comes up here. Is economics too important to be left to economists? And finance too important to be left to financiers? Don't economic questions always bring with them questions of value in something more than financial terms? How are we to get that back on the agenda?"

- Rowan Williams, "Crisis and recovery: the cultural roots of the financial collapse".

The panel discussion I mentioned yesterday was very interesting and worth spending 90 minutes on. A video will soon be available here.

Archbishop Williams was his usual complex and lovable self, even managing a reference to Sergei Bulgakov and this excellent essay. The Guardian economics editor, Larry Elliott had many interesting things to say, but it was Tory MP and former ecological journalist, Zac Goldsmith who really connected some important dots. It is good to know that there are some politicians at least who seem to "get" some of the issues and are willing to speak publicly about them. He joked that his political career was likely to be short. If I was in his electorate, I would vote for him.