My Guest Blogger Anthony Werner: Ethical Economics
- Kamran Mofid
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Anthony Werner, Editor-in-Chief, Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers, London, UK
It was about twelve years ago that Kamran Mofid and I first met. For some twenty-five years before that Shepheard-Walwyn had been building up what I now call our Ethical Economics list as a result of our collaboration.
The first title we published in 1976, Archbishop William Temple’s Christianity and Social Order, was somehow prophetic. Though not strictly an economics title, it explored the relevance of principles in guiding policy-making. As Britain’s former Prime Minister, Edward Heath, stated in his Foreword:
‘It brings home to every one of us the continuing importance of being able to rely on a body of principle by which our plans and our actions can be both motivated and judged.’In 1983 we published our first truly economic title, The Power in the Land, which is a critique of the capitalist system from the perspective of the classical economists.
In 1994 we published The Corruption of Economics at the same time a Faber published The Death of Economics, in the preface of which the author wrote:
'Good economists know, from work carried out within their discipline, that the foundations of their subject are virtually non-existent. The challenge of constructing an alternative, scientific approach to the analysis of economic behaviour is one to which increasing attention is being paid. The obstacles facing academic economists are formidable for tenure and professional advancement still depend to a large extent on a willingness to comply with and to work within the tenets of orthodox theory.' (emphasis added)
This is exactly what Kamran experienced when he came to realise after teaching economics for twenty years that what he was teaching was wrong, morally and intellectually. He too, faced a moral dilemma: to comply or to change.
Let me quote you a passage from his Promoting the Common Good that we had published in 2005, which is so relevant to what economics and good economists are and should be all about:
‘From 1980 onwards, for the next twenty years, I taught economics in universities, enthusiastically demonstrating how economic theories provided answers to problems of all sorts. I got quite carried away by the beauty, the sophisticated elegance, of complicated mathematical models and theories. But gradually I started to have an empty feeling.
‘I began to ask fundamental questions of myself. Why did I never talk to my students about compassion, dignity, comradeship, solidarity, happiness, spirituality – about the meaning of life? We never debated the biggest questions. Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going to?
‘I told them to create wealth, but I did not tell them for what reason. I told them about scarcity and competition, but not about abundance and co-operation. I told them about free trade, but not about fair trade; about GNP – Gross National Product – but not about GNH – Gross National Happiness. I told them about profit maximisation and cost minimisation, about the highest returns to the shareholders, but not about social consciousness, accountability to the community, sustainability and respect for creation and the creator. I did not tell them that, without humanity, economics is a house of cards built on shifting sands.
‘These conflicts caused me much frustration and alienation, leading to heartache and despair. I needed to rediscover myself and real-life economics. After a proud twenty-year or so academic career, I became a student all over again. I would study theology, philosophy and ethics, disciplines nobody had taught me when I was a student of economics and I did not teach my own students when I became a teacher of economics.
‘It was at this difficult time that I came to understand that I needed to bring spirituality, compassion, ethics and morality back into economics itself, to make this dismal science once again relevant to and concerned with the common good.’
Thus, Kamran had the integrity to leave and decided to take a diploma in pastoral theology at Plater College, Oxford, in his quest and search for life’s bigger picture. While he was there, I happened to advertise one of our titles, The Natural Economy in The Tablet, using a remarkable statement from the book:
‘A true grasp of how the economy should be constituted shows it to be a thing of harmony and beauty, all its parts cooperating for the common good, and its inbuilt laws distributing benefits equitably.’
This must have struck a chord with Kamran, because he ordered a copy. Having read it, he ordered two or three more and then, some months, later came to see me and told me that, despite having taught economics for over twenty years, he was unaware that such a body of knowledge existed. Kamran had a manuscript with him which we published in 2002 as Globalisation for the Common Good. Commenting on the book, Ulrich Duchrow, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Heidelberg, wrote:
‘It is rare that an economist discovers the social, ecological, ethical and religious dimension of his subject. Mainstream economics is characterised by reductionism. It continues to sharpen the saw by which society is cutting down the branch on which we are sitting. As an economist himself Kamran Mofid not only brilliantly and credibly criticises this dangerous situation, but gives clear guidelines for alternatives. His convincing theological and ethical arguments are thus translated into perspectives for a life-enhancing economy.’
and James Piscatori, Professor of Islam and International Relations, University of Oxford:
‘…a visionary and humane critique of globalisation that merits broad and urgent attention. As an economist, he writes with particular conviction of the need to leaven an interests- and profits-based science of economics with considerations of justice and the common good.’
Thus was born the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative, and it is welcome news that on Monday 11th November the Treasury in London hosted a meeting attended by professors, students, officials and commentators to discuss how the teaching of economics might be overhauled, something Kamran had recognised all those years ago.
A note of thanks and gratitude to Anthony Werner from Kamran Mofid
It is with great gratitude that I note your remarks above. It goes without saying that I owe a great deal to you for publishing my books. You know, there are now many who are saying and writing things very similar to what I had said many years ago. However, as you know many of my peers and others at that time accused me of having gone mad. They told me, if I carry on like this, talking about ethics, morality, philosophy, theology, spirituality, love, sympathy, empathy, trust, sustainability, dignity, service, volunteerism, reverence for Mother Earth and the common good, I had better consider leaving the economics profession and perhaps become a priest or social worker, or joining the Salvation Army. They told me that I was a lecturer in economics and as such should behave like one! On reflection, I am so happy I did not!
In the process I discovered Shepheard-Walwyn and got to know you, becoming friends for good. You published the Globalisation for the Common Good, when others did not have the needed courage, conviction and commitment to do so. I thank you for who you are and what you do. I thank you for your moral, spiritual and academic support.
Kamran Mofid, Globalisation for the Common Good, Shepherad-Walwyn (Publishers), London, 2002
Marcus Braybrooke & Kamran Mofid, Promoting the Common Good, Shepherad-Walwyn (Publishers), London, 2005
KAMRAN MOFID’s GUEST BLOG: Here on The Guest Blog you’ll find commentary, analysis, insight and at times provocation from some of the world’s influential and spiritual thought leaders as they weigh in on critical questions about the state of the world, the emerging societal issues, the dominant economic logic, globalisation, money, markets, sustainability, environment, media, the youth, the purpose of business and economic life, the crucial role of leadership, and the challenges facing economic, business and management education, and more.