The Great Perversity by Leonardo Boff

The Great Perversity

Leonardo Boff

Theologian – Nov 25, 2011
Earthcharter Commission

 To solve the economic-financial crises of Greece and Italy, by demand of the European Central Bank, governments have been formed that are composed purely of technocrats, without the participation of a single politician. They start from the illusion that it is all about an economic problem, that must be resolved through economics. But those who understand only economics, end up not even understanding economics. The crisis is not from having mishandled economics, but ethics and humanity. Both are closely related to politics. Therefore, the first lesson of basic Marxism is to understand that economics is not just mathematics and statistics, but a chapter of politics. A great part of Marx’s work is devoted to divorcing political economics from capital. When a crisis much like the present occurred in England, and a government of technocrats was created, Marx criticized it harshly, mocking it with irony, because he foresaw total failure, and that is what followed. The poison that created a crisis cannot be used to cure it.

People from the highest levels of finance have been called upon to lead the governments of both Greece and Italy. The banks and stock markets caused the present crisis, that has almost destroyed the whole economic system. These gentlemen are like fundamentalist Talibans: they believe in good faith in the dogma of free markets and the role of the stock markets. Where in the universe is it that greed is good, and that it is good to covet, are proclaimed as the ideal? How can one make a virtue out of a vice (and, let us also say it, from a sin)? They sat in New York’s Wall Street and in the City of London. They are not the foxes that guard the chickens, but those who devour them. With their manipulations they transferred great fortunes to a very few hands, and when the crisis exploded, they were helped out with thousands of millions of dollars taken from the workers and retirees. Barack Obama appeared weak, bowing more to them than to the civil society. They continued the party with the money they received, because the promised regulations of the financial markets became a dead letter. Millions are unemployed and in a precarious state, especially the young, who are filling the streets, indignant, rising against greed, social inequality and the cruelty of capital.

Can it be that people whose minds were formed by the catechism of purely neoliberal thinking are going to lead Greece and Italy out of this mess? What is happening is that an entire society is being sacrificed on the altar of the banks and the financial system.

Since the majority of those in the establishment do not think (they don’t need to think) we will attempt to understand the crisis through the light of two thinkers who, in the same year, 1944, in the United States, gave us an illuminating clue. The first was the Hungarian-Canadian philosopher and economist Karl Polanyi, with his classic work, The Great Transformation. What does it consist of? It consist of the dictatorship of economics. After the Second World War, that helped overcome the Great Depression of 1929, capitalism achieved a master stroke: it annulled politics, sent ethics into exile and imposed a dictatorship of economics. Since then, there has been only a society of market, rather than, as it was before, a society with market. Economics structures everything and turns everything into merchandise, ruled by cruel competition and shameless profiteering. This transformation has destroyed the social bonds, and widened the gap between rich and poor within each country, and at the international level.

The other is Max Horkheimer, a philosopher from the Frankfurt school, exiled in the United States, who wrote Eclipse of Reason (1947). There he sets forth the reasons for Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, that fundamentally consist of the following: reason no longer seeks truth and the meaning of things, but has been sequestered by the process of production and lowered to a mere instrumental function, «transformed into a simple tedious mechanism to register facts». He laments that «justice, equality, happiness, and tolerance, which for centuries have been deemed inherent in reason, have lost their intellectual roots». When a society eclipses reason, it becomes blind, loses the meaning of togetherness, and finds itself stuck in the swamp of individual or corporative interests. That is what we see in the present crisis. The most humanist Nobel laureates for economics, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, have written repeatedly that the Wall Street players should be jailed, as thieves and bandits.

Today, in Greece and in Italy, The Great Transformation has acquired another name: The Great Perversity.

 

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