Moral narratives and economic policy.

From a review of “The New Spirit of Capitalism”:

Thatcherism was certainly shaped by the neo-liberal economics that displaced Keynesianism from the seventies onwards, but economics rarely provides the emotional, psychological or moral fuel for far-reaching political change. It was the moral qualities of markets, and not simply their efficiency-maximising tendencies, that inspired the New Right. Markets were associated with individual freedom, the traditional family, protection from tyranny and hard work. With the exception of the last of these virtues, which has a place close to Gordon Brown’s heart, New Labour has snubbed this normative legacy of the New Right, viewing the market not so much as immoral, but amoral. This is in keeping with scientific socialism. Marx may have had a deep-lying distaste for how capitalism treated people, but it was its structural flaws that led him to predict its collapse and not its moral ones. When New Labour came to accommodate the free market into its political economy during the 1990s, it was primarily on account of a sociological narrative about its inevitability provided by the likes of Anthony Giddens, and not due to a sudden conversion to the moral worldview of Friedrich Hayek or Keith Joseph.

I bring it up only because it’s key to be able to control this rhetoric, especially in light that Obama, from the polls, isn’t doing well on the economics issues. It doesn’t matter that Obama’s economic team is very pro-market and includes some of the smartest economists out there. It doesn’t matter that the economic plan he’s laid out there is incredibly well argued on its technical merits and are Reagan-era numbers, and that McCain’s plan is irresponsible to the point of parody. People don’t respond to markets for technical points, or this percent over that percent; they respond to it primarily as moral rhetoric arguments. I should always realize this, as I think the ‘technical’ arguments about pareto-efficiency, among other things, are still primarily moral arguments.

Obama’s plan is the fairer, more responsible, more long-term thinking plan. I almost don’t count McCain as having an economic plan, as he himself doesn’t seem interested in it (see his flip-flops about Wall Street housing regulation). How can Obama take his arguments about this rate for that rate and connect it with the moral habitus of middle-class voters? Can his connect it with a narrative of freedom, responsibility and hard work at the convention this week? I hope so.

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