Friday, October 7, 2011

The economy is a morality play

Today Krugman ('Notes On The Eurobubble') gives Alan Greenspan another well deserved kicking for blaming the Euro crisis on profligate Southern Europeans getting their just desserts. Krugman points out that huge capital flows from Northern European pushed up demand, output and employment in Spain and other countries, leaving them high and dry when the bubble burst. To blame the Southern Europeans for their plight is therefore misleading moralizing.

Krugman has been berating conservative economists for some time for the tendency to see the economy as a morality play. The trouble is, the political economy is a morality play. Economic behaviour is deeply embedded in social systems within which moral claims, as well as material desires, drive human behaviour. The Eurozone could well collapse entirely because Germans find it so hard to cope with the idea that their supposedly virtuous behaviour will not bring its own reward. Krugman is right in terms of the models, but the very real presence of moral reasoning in the politics of the crisis is precisely why economic modelling alone cannot give us the answers.