“Any great failure should force us to rethink,” begins Robert Skidelsky’s cover story for our new issue. And there can be few failures more lurid than the current crisis of the global financial system. It embodies, Skidelsky argues, a profound moral as well as a pragmatic failure—not only has an “intellectual edifice” toppled, but the world’s largely uncritical acceptance of the very idea of a system built on debt and leverage is wavering.
It is a long time since we’ve entered a new year facing such bleak global tidings. But, as Skidelsky argues, the question of what happens next is one that can yet be turned to the good of the world. As David Goodhart notes in his editorial this month, notions that until recently belonged to the fringe of global politics—that, for instance, globalisation has done little to increase wellbeing in rich countries—will now have their mainstream advocates. And discussions of “values” may well take more seriously questions of experience, loyalty and even old-fashioned moral integrity than the get-rich-quick analyses of investors and their abstract projections.
One way or another, as recession begins to bite, we will see a rebalancing of the global economy, and of the assumptions driving its participants. As Skidelsky argues, post-national finance and citizenship have already begun to look like utopian abstractions from another age. But their replacements may have more to offer the world than debt-fuelled growth seems at the moment to have done. We find ourselves, Skidelsky argues, dissatisfied with “the corruption of money.” But we may now have have an opportunity “to redress the balance between capital and impotent labour”—and regain some sense of values that will not, unlike bonds, collapse under the pressure of blind economic forces.
As ever, let us know your own thoughts and views below.