Over the past 25 years or so, the former Labour MP turned writer and academic David Marquand has written a series of books anatomising Britain’s distinctive political economy. His work has always been characterised by broad historical range and philosophical depth. Marquand’s latest book, “Mammon’s Kingdom: An Essay on Britain, Now”, manages to be both a tearing, furious polemic against the “Mammon worship” to which he thinks this country has succumbed and an elegant analysis of the “tacit political understandings” that have shaped British political discourse during the last three decades.
Britain’s political-economic settlement—Marquand calls it “state-supported financial-sector primacy”—is not new. He traces its roots back to the creation of the Bank of England in 1694, which helped the British state to “mobilise credit on a scale none of its Continental rivals could emulate.” The London-based financial services have always had more political clout in Britain than any other economic sector, Marquand writes. And that’s been true in spades since the late 1980s. Underpinning the primacy of the City of London and of financial capital more generally, he argues, is a distinctive kind of “moral economy”. When I spoke to Marquand recently, I began by asking him to explain what he means by the “moral economy”.