The debate on the structure of the energy market has taken a new turn as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has recently spoken out against energy companies. The Archbishop has told The Daily Mail that the companies have a responsibility to customers as people do not have a choice about whether or not they buy energy. This whole debate was originally sparked when Ed Miliband announced at his party conference that if his party were elected in 2015 he would put an 18 month freeze on gas and electricity prices.
Of course, as soon as this policy was announced numerous voices from the neo-liberal establishment spoke out about how this won’t make ‘economic sense’ and those who support these proposals clearly do not understand economics. This made me wonder – what is economic sense? To me it seems to be the kind of logic that endorses a system whereby millions of people are permanently unemployed, thousands are paid a wage that they cannot live on or work in jobs that seem to have little or no noticeable purpose in society. Is this what they have in mind when they say economic sense?
The Archbishop seems to have spoken out because it has become increasingly clear that in this day and age morality seems to have no place in our politics. If something does not make ‘economic sense’ then the idea is simply ignored, even if – as in this case – the living standards and sometimes lives of many of the most vulnerable in our society hang in the balance. Ed Miliband has said himself that this market does not work, and why is that? It is not that it does not work on a moral level; it also does not work on an economic level either. If energy prices increase to the point where no one can actually heat their homes, regardless of energy being an essential as the Archbishop pointed out, then how does the market expect to make money without any customers?
It is revealing at this point to remember that economics is not a science in any objective sense. It is based on a few assumptions surrounding human nature – in all probability these assumptions could be false and where would that leave the neo- liberal fundamentalists then? We do not need to believe them when they tell us what does and does not make economic sense; an economic is not like an atom, there is
more than one way to construct one.
To paraphrase the great internet philosopher and technologist Jaron Lanier, don’t believe that there is one ideal type of capitalism we need to conform to – there isn’t.
By speaking out against the Energy companies on this matter, Justin Welby has brought to the forefront one of the most interesting questions in modern politics today; how is economics going to re-engage with the politics of morality? As we delve deeper into another decade of neo-liberal economic fundamentalism we really need to ask ourselves – is this the society we wish to live in? Is this the best we can do for our country? This is by no means an endorsement of Ed Miliband – he has failed in the past to dissociate himself with the Thatcherism that made up most of new labour’s economic policy. However, it is true to say that he has certainly identified a very significant problem in our society and touched a nerve in the process; many people may be beginning to wonder whether our current economy structure is really adequately set up to meet the needs of themselves and their families.
These are serious issues that need to be addressed but there does not seem to be the political will to follow through. All the main parties have accepted the Thatcherite dogma and I can see little political space in which a new philosophy that can challenge these assumptions can grow but it is obvious by this debate that we are in serious need of a rethink in the way we structure our economy and how it works for the majority of the people.