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Countering emotivism in economics

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Every largescale uncertain event or series of events at a global scale will always compel the mankind to critically examine about what is happening, why is it happening the way it is, how to overcome the negative consequences that the event throws at the face of humanity and incorporate the positive ones, and what needs to be done to overcome or incorporate the effects of the events. Humanity is exactly at one such a moment. At this present juncture, as Hannah Arendt once said, “all peoples on earth have a common present. Every country has become the almost immediate neighbour of every other country, and every man feels the shock of events which take place at the other side of the globe” because of the Covid-19 epidemic. This global crisis, which the whole world is now invested itself in combating, necessities such critical examination.

One area which is largely put under critical examination since the beginning of the crisis is the domain of economics: What are the impacts of Covid-19 on economies? What should governments do to protect their economy and simultaneously protect their citizenry? And what should be the structure of the economy in the post Covid world? -there are diverse perspectives to these and other questions in this domain. One question that is generating greater interests among the economic theorists and all those concerned with it is about economic order in the post Covid world.

The majority of the arguments are directed towards neoliberal economics- whether it should stay in its current form or wither away or redefine itself to deal with gigantic economic problems at the moment. It would be dubious to suggest for it to either stay or whether away. The choice between these two extremes or somewhere between them, which many appear appealing for many critical examiners is not a good proposition.

If it is argued that neoliberal economic order should stay the way it is, then humanity should be ready to face many crises in the near future. Neoliberal order established a regime of vicious crises where mankind is pushed into one after another, and the scale of each crisis is always unpredictable. Most expounded trickle-down theory is nowhere successful. On the contrary, societies are fragmented and exploitation because, in this present world, only fittest survives. If neoliberal economics is efficient in making everyone better off, then crises would have become obsolete or the occurrence only in the rarest of the rare cases, and mankind should have been well equipped to counter them. But it failed in equipping man to counter the uncertainties.  

Not only failing in establishing a stable regime, but it also surged the Anthropocene instincts in the humanity, with which man is set out to conquer and create a globalized world in which the only norm is to increase the individual material happiness, ignoring any moral considerations like compassion and welfare and giving no thought about what will be left for the future generations.

If it is argued that neoliberal order should whether away, which is a very appealing argument for many apologists, then what should be the new alternative. Socialists and communists will now jump into the scene showing radical alternatives. Let us assume, they showed a much effective path then the neoliberals. But is humanity ready to accept it? – mostly not.

Two reasons can be cited for this. Firstly, they failed to prove themselves as effective every time they are given an opportunity. This is a highly debatable proposition. They may argue and defend everything which has gone wrong with the communist or socialist regimes is because of other external conditions. Truth in their arguments is not denied. But, at the present moment, they don’t hold any real example or model to look up to and adopt to solve the problems at hand. Secondly, humanity is not ready for a new experiment. What if the results are more disastrous after adopting the radical alternatives offered by them? – mankind would say the present is better even though not desirable.

When it comes to choosing a middle order between the extremes, still it is not sufficient because it can hold on to the fallacies in both extremes. Again, humanity is not ready to choose any new point and experiment with it for the same reasons stated above.

So, what is the way out? What kind of economic regime should be established to rectify all the fallacies and inefficiencies in the present systems? Answering this question necessitates a critical look at what is missing in this neoliberal order and stopping it from creating a better world- it is the overspread of emotivism in it.

British Philosopher John Broome said, “Economics is a branch of ethics”. Not completely, a part of economics is a science which takes into account “behaviour of people and institutions in the economic arena”. It is an ethics discipline because it accounts for creating a better world to live in for all human beings. Amartya Sen is a major proponent of this thought who for long worked to integrate ethics and economics. This is a tough proposition to accept for the neoliberal regime because its content is filled with the notion of emotivism.

Emotivism regards that all morals and ethics, as Pareto said, “are only product of the sentiments of the one who constructs it, sentiments which are non-logical products”. Emotivism believes that there are only analytical and empirical truths in this world and everything else is meaningless nonsense. Proponents of this thought like Charles Stevenson, Ayer and Pareto hold that “one is grossly mistaken when he accuses a person who studies economic actions- or homo economicus of neglecting, or even of scorning moral, religious actions….It is like accusing the theory of the game chess of not taking culinary art into account”. This philosophy better suited for all modern-day capitalist economists and it explains the fallacies in the neoliberal order of mankind which is chasing to satisfy its self-interests alone and material prosperity.

For the neoliberal order what is important is increasing the growth rates and wealth of the nations. Ethical aspects of the growth- how it is distributed among all sections of the society? What are the changes brought in the social conditions of weak, meet and destitute masses? Does the growth make everyone better off or it is only for a minority in the top income deciles? all these questions are of least concern. The only way to cleanse the fragile systems we are living in is through countering this emotivism and looking at economics as a moral and ethical science.

Economies should change their priorities. It is no more the increasing the growth rates, but seeing that the growth is inclusive and improve the social standards of people. Health and education should be the utmost priority. For a country like India, the government should focus on improving the capabilities of its working population and make the best use of it. All economies should focus on self-sufficiency where they can provide for all without any dependence on external sources. This change in priorities of the neoliberal order will remove all the internal fractures in it like poverty, over exploitation of the environments, unemployment, disease and other internal conflicts over scarce resources. Egalitarian society many be too divine proposition for the present world, but self-sufficient society is less divine and more possible and it can be achieved by countering emotivism in the content of economics. 

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