Morals and the Meltdown

LONDON – After World War I, H.G. Wells wrote that a race was on between morality and destruction. Humanity had to abandon its warlike ways, Wells said, or technology would decimate it.

Economic writing, however, conveyed a completely different world. Here technology was deservedly king. Prometheus was a benevolent monarch who scattered the fruits of progress among his people. In the economists’ world, morality should not seek to control technology, but should adapt to its demands. Only by doing so could economic growth be assured and poverty eliminated. Traditional morality faded away as technology multiplied productive power.

We have clung to this faith in technological salvation as the old faiths waned and technology became ever more inventive. Our faith in the market – for the market is the midwife of technological invention – was a result of this. In the name of this faith, we have embraced globalization, the widest possible extension of the market economy.

For the sake of globalization, communities are de-natured, jobs off-shored, and skills continually re-configured. We are told by its apostles that the wholesale impairment of most of what gave meaning to life is necessary to achieve an “efficient allocation of capital” and a “reduction in transaction costs.” Moralities that resist this logic are branded “obstacles to progress.” Protection – the duty the strong owe to the weak – becomes Protectionism, an evil thing that breeds war and corruption.