Lack of individual morals dooms culture & economy

By Hanne Nabintu Herland

Read Hanne’s The Herland Report.

The Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani has said that the greatest failing in modern Western thought is the lack of a basic common moral understanding. It creates a cultural divide that will sap and divide the West in the years ahead. Mahbubani argues that as a result of the ethical decline, the West has developed deep-rooted structural faults in its moral foundations. In “Clash of Civilizations: The Debate,” he asserts that Western countries, for example, fail to recognize that democratic values such as individualism, also carry destructive tendencies. The fall of such a culture will come from within, from its own lack of moral integrity. Mahbubani points to a dwindling work ethic, lack of care for the elderly, expectations for free handouts and lack of self-discipline.

As the American superpower façade is cracking more than ever, ill-advised foreign-policy choices such as the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria has cost the U.S. billions of dollars and also led to a remarkably negative shift in opinion of the United States worldwide. Serious socio-political unrest now rocks the entire nation, with deep-rooted financial issues in a system that lacks sufficient self-regulation. Millions have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID scandal; pensioners now work at McDonald’s; living standards are plummeting in the country that used to be the richest in the world. Many argue that regular citizens are returning to a status of serfdom, much like that of the Middle Ages, where the ultra-rich control almost everything, holding ordinary people captive. Deprived of rights, millions live in debt to the “lords of the land.”

Historian Niall Ferguson points out in “The Great Degeneration. How Institutions Decay and Economies Die” that the U.S. is now facing the result of mismanagement by political elites with ideological aspirations not rooted in reality. Ferguson refers to Adam Smith’s quote “the stationary state,” which defines the condition of wealthy states that have ceased to grow. With a corrupt and monopolistic elite who exploit the system to their own benefit, its citizens suffer more and more. While Adam Smith had China in mind when stating the above, China is now ahead of the U.S. The West is declining, while the Rest is rising.

Satyajit Das, who famously predicted the 2007 financial meltdown, states in “In The Age of Stagnation: Why Perpetual Growth is Unattainable, and the Global Economy is in Peril,” that the official response to the financial crisis was a policy of “extend and pretend,” as authorities ignored the underlying problem, covered it up and “kicked the can further down the road.” The assumption is that of economists such as John M. Keynes, to increase government spending, lower interest rates and supply cash to money markets. At the core of Keynes’ ideas was the notion that governments should play a much stronger role, and smooth out the volatility of the free markets by expanding the supply of money and running large budget deficits when times are tough. Increasing inflation was meant to help reduce the level of debt, by decreasing its value. Yet, the market has not responded sufficiently to these measures; global debt has increased, large banks controlling the financial assets even more now than in 2007. Where this ends, no one knows, as Jacob Rothchild has pointed out in an interview.

Another approach is that of economist Milton Friedman, who in “Capitalism and Freedom” writes that during a crisis it is essential that those that have behaved irresponsibly and avariciously, and therefore ended up in financial straits, should be made responsible for their reckless actions. “Let them play with their own money instead of others,” he says. “Only then will they act responsibly,” stating that the responsibility of the individual remains the key concept to success. Yet, today politicians and world leaders remain in office regardless of scandals, corruption or mismanagement of public funds. There seems to be very little political accountability. To lie, steal and cheat is actually more what you expect from a politician.

Yet, individual accountability is the moral prerequisite for constructive, sustainable profit. If the individual does not behave in a manner that inspires trust, the glue in the economic as well as the political model fails. The system falls apart. Where egoism is permitted, arrogance, pride and division are short to follow. This is the very core of what Protestant Calvinism attempted to combat through values such as boundary setting, self-control, selflessness and discipline – the very same moral values that are despised in the decadent Western world today.

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