Tony Judt on Society


I posted the following on my Facebook account last night ‎

‘Thinking “economistically,” as we have done now for thirty years, is not intrinsic to humans. There was a time when we ordered our lives differently.’

– Tony Judt
A friend of mine challenged me to provide some analysis, so here I provide some.
Tony Judt was writing a book aimed at young people who en masse seem to have lost a political activism that previous generations have. There are serious problems caused by rampant neo-liberalism and the domination of policy making by economic concerns. Someone quipped to me that the religion of our age is ‘pop culture, economics, business and money making’
Tony was thinking of the fact that policy considerations are largely dominated by economic concerns. Not to mention the economic dogma of the Chicago School – .Empirically the ‘efficient market hypothesis’ is false. We can have an argument about how false it is, some other time. Also I think Judt makes a very clear point (see any of his articles on this on the NYRB on this set of topics) that economic considerations dominating political discussion, aren’t a natural occurrence they are a matter of taste. What about ‘is it right’. I don’t think notions of ‘fairness’ or ‘morality’ should be neglected in political discourse. And this is very important for some defence of the social democratic model.
What is pertinent about this article is that economic thinking which dominates our policy concerns is not necessarily a natural way to think about this. A lot of these problems in policy – for instance bringing morality into it – which I personally think is one reason we should try to conquer the problems of poverty – are discursive. We have forgotten how to talk in different ways. The fields of human endeavour are large and it is dangerous to marry policy and economics )and bastardised economic thinking at that) too closely.
My friend Sam posted this “In the modern age of policy, economic analysis supersedes other decision-making criteria that most of us use every day such as ethics, morality, and principles such as robustness and precaution. As a result we have entered in to a political paradigm which totally relies on models to justify a government’s supposedly utilitarian agenda. The choice and subsequent blame becomes not that of the elected decision maker but put squarely on the models and the limits of human ability in building such a model. Blame becomes diffuse, as does responsibility. This makes for bad policy making.” on his blog a few years ago. It seemed profound then and it seems profound now.