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. . . broken into multiple disconnected compartments of western understanding

from Richard Norgaard

. . . until early in the 19th century, merely two hundred years ago, an effort to intertwine reality and morality still existed in natural theology, the project to understand the character, will, and operating manual of God through the study of nature. Isaac Newton was both an accomplished moral philosopher and a path-breaking natural philosopher (Iliffe, 2017). The Physiocrats made moral arguments about who should be taxed based directly on what they understood to be physical realities (Schabas, 2007). Adam Smith wrote a treatise on astronomy to document his knowledge of natural systems before writing moral philosophy (Ross, 2010, chapter 7). Well into the 19th century, both natural and moral philosophy students as well as students of theology, medicine, and law studied William Paley’s “Natural Philosophy, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity collected from the Appearances of Nature” (Paley, 1835 and earlier editions). In 1874, social philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill intertwined the science of natural laws and natural religion (Mill, 1874). Morality and reality intertwined in the minds of European intellectual elites during the rise of disciplines in the latter 19th century. Then, not only reality and morality became separated but they too were broken into multiple disconnected compartments of western understanding. The creation of disciplines, specialized realms of knowledge, implicitly entailed the assumption that the linkages between disciplines were sufficiently weak that, for “practical” purposes, they could be ignored. Pure reason combined with empirical evidence in the style of Newton’s physics was only practical by assuming reality could be divided into parts. It was in this historical context that the 20th century idea arose that economics could be a separate field of human understanding.

 ( read morePost-economics: Reconnecting reality and morality to escape the Econocene)

  1. Craig
    September 13, 2021 at 12:40 am

    Politics, society and economics are all in a disintegrative trend. Grace as in love in action/systemic policy is the most unitary natural philosophical concept/experience that man has ever conceived. Apply the logic in the economy with monetary and financial policies and you can’t go wrong. Think about it.

  2. Ikonoclast
    September 13, 2021 at 4:54 am

    Along with the call for reintegrating morality into political economy, we must renew the call for reintegrating class politics into political economy. When we discriminate, in a systemic, systematized fashion or in a personal ad hoc and prejudicial fashion, we always discriminate persons by category: the most obvious categories today are class, race, ethnicity and sexual identit plus wealth standing itself as a class indicator. Classification into categories is about classing and classes, everywhere and always by definition and in actuality.

    Prejudicial classifications of race, ethnic group and sexual identity are really still just subgroups of broader class politics. We need to revive class politics powerfully, radically and revolutionarily in the sense of all oppressed classes and identities combining in solidarity and revolting against the oppressing system, namely against late stage neoliberal capitalism, and the oppressive class of the highly propertied and rich oligarchs and plutocrats. All talk about economic theory is obfuscation and misdirection. The neoliberals want you to argue endlessly about economic theory. Accepting that the issues are economic rather than power-political and about class is to get bogged down in the deliberate obfuscation and misdirection of capitalist political economy.

    I will speak just to the Australian neoliberal experience below but this applies to all of the neoliberal West. Australia, at this juncture , starts from its particular point in neoliberal regress as shown in the earlier post about Gini coefficient movements by the Editor. It also starts from its current point of having almost fully suppressed COVID-19 outbreaks but now being in the process of giving up and deciding to let the pandemic rip like the rest of the West (as countries rich and/or functional enough to have had a choice about it).

    The neoliberal betrayal of the Australian people has reached new heights. In the past, the Australian neoliberals played the game of wedge politics and selective compensation. Poor and powerless sections of the population were wedged off and kept poor and powerless: black people, unemployed people, people with disabilities, different gender identities and so on. The selective compensation was applied to those wedged apart from the poor & powerless. Those who were entitled and favored had votes which could be bought by selective compensation.

    Most of these entitled and favored people were and are white, Anglo-Saxon, English speakers in the large baby boomer cohort (like me) and in the depression generation / war generation cohort; those parents of the baby boomers sometimes called the Silent Generation, as people born from 1928 to 1945. Many of the “Silents’ have already passed away and of course their voting patterns have passed with them. The white Baby boomers largely remain and whether from the working class, middle class, upper middle class or the rich they have been selectively compensated, especially in retirement, with middle class welfare and welfare for the rich. This selective compensation process ensured their vote was bought and remained bought. mostly for the conservative side of politics.

    This process is now breaking down. The neoliberal betrayal of the people and of common weal(th) values, that is of common-good values, proceeds apace and spreads into classes who previously had considered themselves immune to neoliberal neglect (which they saw as only keeping the undeserving and the different in their “proper” place). The already established middle class is shrinking, partly by wealth loss and partly by already beginning to die off. But new middle class formation is not taking place, just as new household formation by young adults largely fails to take place under neoliberal economics. It is now much harder for young 20s to 30s aged people to enter the middle class and achieve the dwelling ownership status which is an important part of this. Middle class recruitment is down. This could well change voting patterns.

    In addition, it appears white baby boomers are currently beginning to experience new levels of neglect which they may at first find surprising and even shocking. Their selective compensation gravy train ride is coming to an end. This is consistent with the expansion of neoliberalism. New targets for cost cutting must always be found. The neoliberal process must continue until the 0.1% of the very rich are even richer and concomitantly the rest of the population are much poorer. The Silent generation and Boomer generation are now beginning to see their comfort, security and expectations seriously fray around the edges. They are even beginning to suffer and die at higher rates from neglect, especially from nursing home neglect, from the COVID-19 let-it-rip strategy and the seriously delayed or lowered access to elective surgeries, again due to “COVID-19 let-it-rip” strategy.

    These problems begin to be noticeable even from age 60 and above where these people (other than the privileged rich and the seriously sneaky), are being discriminated against (in Australia) by being given no vaccine choice other than AstraZeneca, and their doctors are being given no professional prescription discretion in respect of their patients, even as vaccine supply issues ease. Other people, who have long suffered discrimination could justifiably say, “Welcome to our world, you privileged white f***s. I understand that. Perhaps surprisingly or not so surprisingly many of the oppressed have more grace, tolerance and generosity than that. it is the very rich who are most often graceless, intolerant and ungenerous, along with their red-neck, ignorant, denialist and manipulated neofascist, brown-shirt, shock militia who break health curfews, run containment lines, demonstrate and threaten houses of democratic representation if permitted to rampage that far and so on.

    It will be interesting to see how voting patterns change, in a country with (relatively) compulsory voting like Australia, when more demographic groups begin to realize noliberalism is shifting them from a privileged and selectively compensated class to just another exploited and discarded class. Welcome to late stage neoliberalism! This is the stage were we all, except for the super rich, begin to realize we are expendable in the name of profit. We are all about to be thrown to the “wolves” of encroaching morbidity and death, and finally probably even to poverty, segment by segment, if we don’t die first.

    Opening up with high COVID-19 case numbers, with inadequate vaccination rates (of leaky vaccines as the virus rapidly mutates) and with inadequate NPIs (non pharmaceutical interventions, will throw o the virus a vast section, as much as 50% of the Australian population, to the wolves, or rather to this highly contagious and dangerous virus. It potentially throws all the over 60s to the virus (they have rising medical preconditions of course plus the rising general and normal immunosenescence of the aged), plus throws all the disabled and other persons with medical preconditions to the virus as well. It throws our medical, nursing and paramedical staff to the virus with inadequate PPE,inadequate ICU spaces (lack of negative pressure air-con etc.) and inadequate staff levels and funding: all chronically under-funded over many years of neoliberal maladministration.

    This IS the disaster, the compound disaster, along with the other disasters like climate change, that the scientists plus the enlightened economists like John Quiggin (Australia), Brian Easton (New Zealeand) and Paul Pierson (US), plus sociologists like Micheal Pusey (Australia) and polymath social philosophers like John Ralston Saul (Canadian) have been warning about for well over 30 years. I have been reading their and other works that long myself.

    THIS IS IT. The sabotage and betrayal of the people and the biosphere by the monetarists, neoliberals and plutocrat capitalists comes to a head NOW. We are on a path to COMPLETE DISASTER and COLLAPSE. If anyone thinks we can survive COVID-19 times Climate Change times Neoliberal Prescriptions then they are completely deceived. This it it. We need revolution, by massive changes in voting patterns if fortuitously that alone will do it. We need more class based voting and class based direct action with solidaritty across all the oppressed clases and less endless and fruitless academic debating.

    Of course one can be a philosopher and an activist: a thinker and a doer. The most ineffectual are those who only do one or the other, but not both. Enough thinking has been done. Time to act.

  3. Ken Zimmerman
    September 13, 2021 at 11:54 am

    My career has been in the government regulation of the rates charged and terms of service of public utilities (electric, telecommunications, water, sewer, etc.). State and federal regulation of private companies providing these services was supplemented by the same services provided directly by city, county, state, and federal governments. Beginning during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Aside from the technicalities of designing and approving rates and terms of service, everyone who provides the services or regulates the providers must base recommendations for approval on three overriding criteria—fair, just, and reasonable. The rates charged to end-users and the terms for their service must be fair to all stakeholders.  End-users, providers, community members, other local businesses, etc.  Similarly, rates and terms must be both legally enforceable and stand as non- discriminatory in public hearings. Finally, rates and terms must make sense to the ‘reasonable person,’ not just technical and legal experts. Reading the history of these aspects of American history it’s clear the processes were intended to integrate technical assessments, judicial judgements, public accountability, and moral determinations of right and wrong. Very tricky balancing.

  4. Edward Ross
    September 14, 2021 at 12:43 am

    In response to Ikonoclast September 13, 2021 @4:54pm
    From my position in the real world I agree with his response because it deals with the real world before being distracted by endless theory before observing what is happening in the real . Further more think his down to earth post could easily be adapted to address the concerns of the average citizens and possibly create the groundswell that is needed to force the reform of economics and reinstate a true democracy. Ted

  5. September 14, 2021 at 11:10 am

    Accepting Richard’s thesis of the need to reintegrate economics and morality, my concern is that the fragments he is having to work from have misinformed him in a way that prevents his seeing why it is persisting and what can be learned from looking at the facts. The blog editor has taken up the story shortly after Richard’s most significant bit of misinformation:

    “Also in this [Luther] period, the Catholic Church had the hubris to claim authority to convert the peoples of Europe’s new world to Catholicism even if it killed them. The Church’s hubris transformed into enlightened hubris and then capitalist and socialist hubris with respect to transforming or killing other cultures in the name of developing them”.

    A lovely bit of rhetoric, but I am writing as a Catholic knowing the other side of this story. In the medieval church the problem of hierarchy had been settled by the Pope, the father figure in the Catholic Church, having moral authority over the king, the father figure in secular matters: this at least since the then English king’s men killed Thomas a Beckett, leader of the English church. The Pope is no more the Catholic Church than our Queen is England.

    Hubris is a fault of individuals, and dna makes sure no two are the same. In 1492 not only did Columbus discover the West Indies by a Borgia became pope and in 1494 approved of Spain and Portugal [i.e. their leaders] dividing the New World between them. The Catholic Church eventually took Luther seriously enough to start a counter-reformation in 1545 at the Council of Trent. The king of France became Catholic in 1593 and guaranteed religious freedom in the Edict of Nantes. 12 years later he was assassinated; the different French king a century later revoked the edict. Other evidence shows how the church went to the Americas to teach; Machiavellian kings persuaded the pope to close thriving missions by claiming them heretical.

    Conditions in London’s docks shocked Pope Leo XIII into writing “Rerum Novarum” in 1891, calling for reconsideration of economic principles in light of human needs lost sight of in the New Age. More recent popes added the political principle of subsidiarity, the justice principle of reciprocity and the appeal for solidarity which undermined the soviet system in Poland. All this never gets considered when even mention of God or Catholic triggers knee-jerk reactions. Yet the “Small is Beautiful” sequel to it is precisely what open-minded people are seeing has become not only necessary but urgent.

    The etymology of the word ‘church’ is interesting. It comes from the Greek word for ‘Lord’, i.e. belonging to the lord, religion being seen by thinkers as thanking our Father for dying that we might live, and by the empirical and Doubting Thomases as a building they see religious folk going into. Why do people think so differently? Why the clash between Right and Left in politics? Again studious Right-minded economists accept the clash rather than ask the question or study the Left-minded artist who answered it in terms of brain logic rather than knowledge. Have I not repeatedly mentioned G K Chesterton and Jung, yet still Ikonoclast above sees the French rather than the Copernican style of revolution as the only remedy for injustice. But hence again the difference between ‘economics’ and ‘ecology’: the one having a name for every ‘thing’ without knowing how it works, the other looking at everything to see how it works.

    Again economists are still looking for static systems of mathematical relationships rather than studying how communication works to transform them in telephone exchanges or computer switching logic; or how C S Peirce’s system of scientific logics (in order: abduction, deduction and induction) explains stable results when cycled continuously and change when not. What they haven’t seen is how Right-minded mathematicians transformed iconic geometry (earth measuring) into symbolic (undefined) algebraic symbols, and hence left them disconnected from the earth they are supposed to be studying. Newton knew better than that: he used the old three-dimensional visual geometry and trigonometry to justify his findings.

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