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Mikkel Wold (ed.): Take back the ethics. Market thinking and its consequences

When everything in life gets a price tag, they become easily corrupted.


Economics and religion

Take back the ethics is a call to a world that has undergone a development in recent decades where the social and human relationships have been amazingly transformed according to market patterns: where the use of financial incentives is seen as a widely accepted way of solving social problems. But when all things in life get a price tag, they become easily corrupt. This is because the market not only distributes goods, but also expresses and promotes a special way of relating to values ​​and the goods offered. If a child is paid to read books, reading may be more diligent, but it also learns to consider reading more as an assigned job than as a source of satisfaction and spiritual development. It is this mental climate, created by homo economicus, which has been invading areas such as education, working life, climate understanding and health. But man is not only based on the desire for benefit maximization, but also good relationships, cooperation, closeness and empathy. (Something the economists also pointed out in the Danish Social Security Commission. Better late than never!) Facing the utility-optimized, corrupt human view of winners and losers, emphasizes Take back the ethics the need to re-raise a language of dignity and respect. The book draws on inspirations from Greek philosophy and Christian ethics, Catholic reform programs, educational thinking in education, and sustainable and social economy understanding. Competition States. With reference to Ove K. Pedersen's book Competition States, Peter Kemp emphasizes how self-sufficiency, and thus the workforce, has become the real measure of value in Danish society. The "normal subject" becomes the human being who is given duties and rights, and who regulates and controls his work. “I would add that it is this logic that has determined our market politicians' revisions in the whole field of education: the reform of teacher education, where the content of subjects must be supplanted by methodology; the primary school reform, which drastically extends children's school time; the propulsion reform, which introduces cadaver discipline for university students; and most recently the dimensioning plan, which will eradicate a number of the universities' language and culture subjects. In addition, a so-called «quality committee» has meant that students can work 20 percent more. The young people must be trained in the shortest possible time to be able to work – get a job, as it is called. Against this, Kemp puts the classical self-reflection (philosophy of antiquity) and the Christian idea of ​​a universal ethical community. But it is a pity that the author of the article does not take the time to unfold these important things properly. What does it mean that we have completely lost a language for the quality of work, and only talk about production and efficiency? What does it mean that we stare blindly at solutions, and not at formation and contemplation? Today, everyone has the right to understand, but not the duty to do the same. Hence the stupefying education policy and the dysfunctional labor market, where everything is about efficiency and value optimization, as well as increased production. Adorno wrote that there is a close connection between short-term utility, including lust for money, and linguistic simplification and distortion.

The bank has taken the place of the church.

The belief in growth. According to professor of economics Jesper Jespersen, in the last third of the 20th century we have seen a shift in the focus of economic theory from community to individual, from welfare to values ​​measured in money. We have moved from a social economy based on a notion of the common good, to a strengthened market economy where it is the individual consumption and the total production calculated in money that is in focus. It has relied on increased production and more money to alleviate the economic crisis and make the population more satisfied. But "never have so many economists made as many mistakes as they have in the last decade – where growth has been largely absent". Economic theory can no longer explain reality. The notion that supply creates its own demand in the labor market has proved to be erroneous. Full employment is not the normal state, rather the opposite. The consequences of objective economic reason are an explosive indebtedness, where the weakest in society will pay the burden. But economics is, as Jespersen describes it, «an interpretive science». The economic models that politicians use to justify the implementation of tax breaks for business and general austerity policies (the "policy of necessity") "appear as a result of a scientifically sound analysis which it would be irresponsible not to carry out, which in itself contributes to to undermine the democratic debate ». The case is probably the one that Ole Jensen emphasizes in his contribution that the invasion of the economy in all spheres of life has to do with ideology. "Growth has become a substitute for religion." We are hit by the "growth trap", as he writes – a new belief in growth has taken hold, which instrumentalises life in objective money and production skills, and which has little to do with growth, as in a Christian, poetic and community context always has been associated with the budding, sensuous and thoughtful life. But what role does faith play in the modern economy? Capitalism as a religion. The occasion for the small but condensed text collection Capitalism as a religion is the posthumous fragment of the German philosopher and author Walter Benjamin of the same name from around 1921. While Max Weber argued for the relationship between the spirit of capitalism and the Protestant Reformation – where an industriousness in the earthly leader towards salvation – Benjamin sees capitalism as an enchantment of it modern, revealing it essentially as a religious phenomenon. Capitalism as a religion is characterized by three things: 1) It is the observance of a cult, not a doctrine or idea; 2) It is permanent – a celebration without end. It does not distinguish between feast and working day, between rest (Sabbath) and activity. There is only one uninterrupted day of party-work where the work coincides with the cult; 3) The capitalist cult does not point to any redemption or atonement of guilt, but to guilt itself. In his analysis, Giorgio Agamben emphasizes that «capitalism as a religion does not tend towards a change of the world, but its destruction as a goal». He asks: What does capitalism believe in? In its definition of faith (stuck) Paul says in the book of Hebrews: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." With Agamben's comment: “It is what gives reality and credibility to that which does not yet exist, but which we believe in and trust, with which we have put our credibility and our word at stake. Credit is the participle in perfect for the Latin verb believe: credit is what we believe in. “But since the cult has freed itself from every object, and guilt from every sin, capitalism has no object from the point of view of faith. It believes in the pure credit that has replaced God. The bank has taken the place of the church. And since money and credit no longer have an external reference (the gold standard), capitalism becomes an empty denominator that appears as a purely religious question. With the result that the credit becomes a parody of the faith. One hopes for something that has no substance. The debtor. This sanctification of capitalism, and the notion of labor and production, have far-reaching consequences. Not only has the work become an identity-creating cult shrouded in a fetish cult of self-realization, brands, creative language and self-consumption; it has also created a debt economy that supports a particular form of production, namely the production of subjectivity, something Maurizio Lazzarato has addressed in his book The creation of the debtor (La Fabrique de l'homme endetté). The economic policies of the states (plus the EU) provide the basis for a biopolitical administration of life through the support of a life of consumption and bank loans to our houses, whereby man takes part in his own slavery, as if it were the way to salvation. The imaginary causes that control reason and make man stupider and life more miserable have been taken over by capitalism, which has succeeded in making imaginary causes of growth, enterprise, and future security look like a sacred truth. Robert Kurz thus calls capitalism a "perverted, sacred object" that has become independent in an earthly sacrificial movement: the capital fetish. The sorcery (fetish) that emanates from the commodity is the same sorcery that causes the commodity to detach itself from the circulation of goods into a separate sphere, where magic and seduction take over and the quality and substance fade away. It is this process of separation (religion means, according to Agamben, "that which separates") from which capitalism intensifies and subsists. In a post-industrial economy dominated by knowledge, communication, advice, concepts and experiences, fetish, performance and production of subjectivity go hand in hand. What is up against this parasitic belief that is invading capitalism and the economy? The preface calls for an attack on the nihilistic religiously based economy, and to create the basis for the contradiction of a common experience. In this, the book agrees with the former: Take back the ethics. But where the latter will seek to return to universal values ​​in education, ethics, and Christianity, will Capitalism as a religion establish the basis for a new total critique of neoliberal economics, of the fundamental mode of operation of capitalism, including a sanctification (profanation) of work and life – and create a counterpoint to quality and experience in production and communities.

Mikkel Wold (ed.): Take back the ethics. Market thinking and its consequences Jensen & Dalgaard publishing house, 2015 M. Bolt & D. Routhier (eds.): Capitalism as a religion Nebula, 2015

Alexander Carnera
Alexander Carnera
Carnera is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen.

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