Thursday, July 4, 2013

Changing from economic to political primacy: Why this is necessary

Recently many publications of economists and philosophers were released which question and want to contain the dominant role of the economy and the market in our societies of today (e.g. R. and E. Skidelsky, T. Sedlacek, L. Herzog, M. Sandel). They demand that the role of the economy has to be debated publicly. This corresponds basically to the demand for a primacy of politics over economy. But why is it important to contrast the primacy of politics with the one of economy?
First of all it is decisive to see that among all political views of a society also such exist according to which the economy and its material fruits indeed are not seen as an end in itself. In a society living the primacy of real democratic politics institutional conditions are in place which enable to include all (non-radical) political views and matters of a society. Of course, and this is fully clear, also in such case economy will play an important role simply because people want sustenance and wealth.
In a society in which the primacy of economy rules economic issues are basically considered as the most important ones. Principles like the market, growth or profit maximization become to end purposes of all existence. All forces which potentially constrain the forces of the pure market as the only regulative force will be fought. Factually (and although democratic institutions may still exist) this model of society shows fundamental and even totalitarian traits: everybody has to subjugate herself to the primacy of economy and its principles, if she wants or not.
Once established, to depart from this model is difficult: each concept of economy other than the one of a neoliberal economy acknowledges also other matters than pure economic ones to have a meaning or value on their own (e.g. stakeholders, society, environment). This of course endangers the economic primacy. But a society with e.g. a primacy of religion has similar problems: all its members have to subordinate themselves to religious principles if they want or not.
Only the primacy of politics which is committed to a democratic order can provide remedy: only in this way the full colourfulness of views of a society can be integrated. Despite this also caution has to be exercised: material power asymmetries between political actors e.g. can influence the formation of majorities. Moreover, it has to be acknowledged that politicians like R. Reagan or M. Thatcher which have contributed significantly to the primacy of economy were democratically elected.
Because today we know to what such primacy is able to do critic at it has become good form even in economic circles. But the voyage has not ended yet: the actual requirement is the return to the primacy of politics and also to stay there. To stay there it is also necessary to debate in Aristotelian manner what is good and hence moral. To think about the good helps preserving before leaving the primacy of politics: nobody will then voluntarily leave this primacy for a fundamental-totalitarian system, be it of religious, economic or of other character.
Claude Meier

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