Against a neoliberalism with aristotle

About Amartya Sens "economy for the human being"

The data dandy shows a disturbing kinship with the politician who also imposes himself on us with meaningless statements and simply does not want to give way. Now that the political classes have discovered the media in their death throes, they can’t get out of it and develop dandyish moves. The data dandy appears in the void of politics that has remained since the counterculture dissolved in a dialectical synthesis with the system. There he turns out to be an adversary as endearing as he is false, to the coarse fury of politicians who regard their young-pragmatic dandyism as a journalistic device and not per se as a personal goal. They vent their anger on journalists, experts and personalities who form the random round of discussions on the studio floor, where the authority over the direction is the only subject of conversation. But they have a rough time with the data dandy, who does not want to be a fair opponent and fails to ask critical questions. Our bon viveur delights in all the banality on display and takes absolutely no offense at the indefinable endeavor of.

Bilweit Agency

Despite Internet, World Wide Web, IT and New Economy, contrary to the courageous statements of the agency Bilweit, (from which the opening quotation comes, from which the paradoxical intellectual climate can best be read, to which postmodernism owes its rath-like charm. That’s the whole trick behind their repressed and laid-back sexiness: The impotents discover eunuchism and feel like Richard Gere giving Julia Roberts a good enema again), the conceptions of Toni Negri, the slogans of various milquetoast bully-boys, the incantations of deconstructive shamans and, regardless of the urges and aspirations of an out-of-control, the socially transforming subject is not the computer specialist, the data dandy, the working class, the rhizomatic brain rebel Susi, the television, the subway, Beelzebub or Jesus Christ: Nowadays, quite simply, the most zealous anarchists, the most pedantic egalitarians, the most determined expropriators,the most permanent revolutionaries and the most relentless crusaders against the state system are the capitalists themselves in the form of transnational corporations.

And not only for simpler minds this is not too little, but decidedly too much revolution per day. A wise man once wrote, or something like it: The bird, when it is embarrassed, cleans its feathers, the cat licks its paws and man even starts to think now and then, if he absolutely has to. If he actually did so, as seems to have been the case for some time, he would have to think that the anarchistic, chaotic and undemocratic activities of these irresponsible economic revolutionaries should be stopped and their monsters of accumulation, who have gone wild, should be brought to justice. And once again, undisturbed by the prognoses of all left-wing modern postradicals, this will be the task of the currently much-maligned state system, which is now receiving justified encouragement for its expansion from an Indian economist and Nobel Prize winner.

Amartya Sen, born in 1933 in Santiniketan, India, teaches economics at Cambridge University and received the Nobel Prize in 1998 for his work on welfare economics and the theory of economic development.

Remarkably, just one year earlier, in 1997, the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to two U.S. economists who used mathematical formulas to reduce the risk of derivatives speculation. This model, however, was so successful that after a short time the mega-hedge fund advised by the two of them was created "Long Term Capital Management" imploded, causing losses in the billions of dollars that not only bankrupted numerous investors and put several hundred thousand people out of work, especially in Asia, but also forced the U.S. Federal Reserve, in conjunction with other leading financial institutions, to spend huge sums of money to trim the failed project in order to avert something far worse.

With his book "okonomics for people", a compendium of various lectures Sen gave to the World Bank in 1996, he focuses not on technical and isolated ies of economics (such as optimizing economic growth), but on the role of the economy for people. This is quite unusual for an economist. In contrast to conventional economics, which operates with a fixed and one-dimensional image of man oriented to the economy and reduces the qualities of existence of man together with his well-being to purely economic categories such as growth and prosperity, Sen makes Aristotle’s more comprehensive image of man its basis:

Aristotle defines man as a being who, by his nature, lives in a state community and has a language that, unlike blob animal sounds and gestures, can express moral relations – the just and the unjust. Furthermore, regardless of the multitude of factual and possible ways of existence, happiness (eudaimonia) should be considered the highest good for the human form of life. It is the unconditional end to which a perfect human life is directed. The means to achieve this goal are of various kinds, but they have to represent that which is proper to man (…). That which is proper to human nature, (…) is the ability to recognize and act according to reason.

Dieter Sturma

This approach allows Sen, in his interdisciplinary analysis, to take into account various economic, political and social factors, all intertwined and interacting with each other. Sen ames – in the sense of Aristotle and contrary to the economistic tendency to focus freedom only on the purpose of economic growth – that human freedom is of intrinsic value, a means and an end in itself, and that the economic aspect is only a part of human freedom besides education, health care, social security, social transparency, etc. constitutes. For, according to Aristotle, economic wealth is only a means to the end of leading a good life, a self-determined life, guided by reason and directed toward the development of human capacities and abilities:

The life directed to the acquisition of money has something unnatural and forced about it, and wealth is obviously not the good sought. For it exists only for use and is only a means to an end.

Accordingly, for the neo-Aristotelian Sen, economic development cannot represent an absolute end, but can only be relevant with the perspective of expanding the conditions of the possibility of human self-determination and development of personhood. Consequently, the economic sphere of man must be integrated into a more comprehensive conception of freedom:

(…) it is simply inappropriate to make only the maximization of income and wealth our fundamental goal, for they are, as Aristotle noted, only a use value: means to other ends. For the same reason, economic growth will not be seen as an end in itself. Development is more about intensifying the freedoms we enjoy and the lives we lead. Developing the freedoms we have reason to enjoy not only enriches our lives and frees them from shackles, but also enables us to participate more intensively in social life, to assert our will, and to interact with and influence the world in which we live

Amartya Sen

In Sen’s view, the interconnectedness of individual action and the objective social basis for this action, i.e. the spectrum of economic, social and political fields of activity for the individuals, must be included in the analysis. The functions of fundamental rights, such as economic opportunity, political freedom, the preservation of social transparency and social security, play a special role in their interdependence. Social institutions (the state, the market, the legal system, political parties, the media) are therefore confronted by Sen with the task of guaranteeing basic rights in order to enable people to maintain and expand their essential freedoms. In this context, people are not seen as supplicants of gracious gifts from the state, but as active, changing, self-changing, learning and rational subjects:

Since the development of abilities necessarily requires an accommodating environment, people do not educate and develop themselves, mub (…)the social environment must be designed in such a way that it provides individuals with a suitable developmental climate (…). And since there is no reason to grant any human being a greater right to a developmentally favorable climate than any other, justice demands perfectionist equality, equality of developmental opportunity, that is, social institutions that allow individuals living within their regulatory range equally to develop their abilities

Wolfgang Kersting

In his concept of development, Sen presents freedom as a process of expansion of interrelated political, social and economic freedoms, in which not only individual freedoms (which for him are ultimately socially conditioned), but also their social framework (as a prerequisite for the possibility of human development in the form of expansion of freedom or elimination of elementary unfreedoms that limit people in their possibilities for action and life) must be taken into account:

Ultimately, individual action is critical if we are to remedy the shortage. On the other hand, the freedom of action that we have as individuals is inevitably determined and limited by the social, political and economic opportunities that we have. Individual action and social institutions are two sides of the same coin. It is very important to recognize simultaneously the centrality of individual freedom and the power of societal influences on the extent and scope of individual freedom.

Amartya Sen

Development, in Sen’s view, is a permanent process that expands choices in the political, social, cultural, and economic spheres and enables individuals to develop and expand their capabilities, which again expands the range of their choices and again affects the development of their capabilities. For this to happen, however, society must create the appropriate conditions in the form of institutions, which in turn must ensure social justice:

The basic human capabilities are not innate traits. They must be developed through care, provision of resources and education. According to the neo-Aristotelian understanding of politics, the socially just establishment of the conditions for such development processes belongs to the very tasks of the state

Dieter Sturma

According to Sen, the central task of the state is to create conditions that enable individuals to realize their own life plans. Thus, it is the duty of the state not only to ensure economic growth, but also to ensure that everyone can benefit from this prosperity. For example, the state must provide a well-functioning education and health system and a social network for those who are pushed out of the labor market.



From this point of view, the task of the state does not diminish, but rather expands, because de facto inequality increases if, instead of income inequality, inequality in the distribution of freedoms and poverty as a lack of opportunities for realization are taken into account. This is because income inequality also goes hand in hand with different levels of realization that income can also be translated into freedom:

In fact, policy debates have been distorted by an over-emphasis on income poverty and inequality, ignoring deficiencies related to other variables, such as unemployment, illness, educational deficits and social exclusion. Unfortunately, it is quite common in economic theory to identify economic inequality with income inequality, and the two are often considered synonymous

Amartya Sen

To address these problems of inequality, social interventions, especially government assistance, play an important role. This applies not only to shortages such as low income, but also to lack of or inadequate education or health care and other unacceptable living conditions. Here, the market is assisted by other, non-market institutions of society, especially in the form of state support, which in the final analysis is supposed to benefit society.

For Sen, it is a foregone conclusion that inadequate or non-existent social institutions are counterproductive not only for human progress but also for economic progress, and that a prosperous economy can only be the result of social improvements and not vice versa. Furthermore, Sen concludes that – contrary to the assertions of the concrete-headed faction of neoliberals – in a society from which the state withdraws and loses its social steering function (as would be the case, among other things, if the logic of the market were imposed on all areas of society), people are more likely to lose their income and their legal position and are more easily discriminated against, which is why state intervention to ensure social peace is more urgent than ever in the future.

Sen’s model is a liberal theory. But it also goes clearly beyond this at decisive points and ultimately finds itself there in pleasant company with illustrious thinkers such as the man from Stageira himself (this not only rhymes with Madeira and reminds us of the existence of quite excellent wines and spirits, but is also the place from which, according to weiland Hegel, simply and simply "the teacher of the human race" and Karl Marx (an Aristotle devotee, whose work is still not properly "okonomism" is still not properly understood as a critique and representation of the real economic fetishism in the bourgeois commodity economy), but also, for a change, with a real dandy (and not a postmodern Dutch hippie needlessly disguised with data sets) named Oscar Wilde (the most exemplary Catholic and the smartest of all Aristotelians, who with "Socialism and the Soul of Man not only wrote the most humane essay, but also by far the most perceptive and amusing plays), all of whom, as coarse-brain owners, praised above all the human-serving function of the economy:

There is nothing at all necessary in physical work, and most of the time it is completely degrading. It is spiritually and morally shameful for a person to do anything that does not give him pleasure, and many forms of work are quite joyless occupations and should be kept that way. (…) Until now, man has been to some extent the slave of the machine, and there is something tragic in the fact that as soon as man invented a machine to do his work for him, he began to suffer hardship. This, of course, comes from our economy of ownership and competition. One person is the owner of a machine that does the work of five hundred people. Five hundred people are unemployed as a result(…).

The individual appropriates and keeps the product of the machine and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, more importantly, significantly more than he actually needs. If this machine was the property of all, everyone would benefit from it. It was of the greatest advantage to the community. Every purely mechanical, every monotonous and dull work, every work that has to do with disgusting things and forces man into degrading situations, must be done by the machine. (…)

Now the machine displaces man. Under the right circumstances she will serve him. (…) It is said that culture needs slaves. In this the Greeks were quite right. If there are no slaves to do disgusting, exhausting and boring work, culture and tranquility become almost impossible. The slavery of man is unjust, unsafe and degrading. The future of the world depends on mechanical slaves, on the slavery of the machine

Oscar Wilde

Finally, it is noteworthy that Sen’s concept does not imperceptibly conflict with the reality of globalization, but this is not specifically addressed by Sen. Already Aristotle had distinguished between economics (household theory: production and exchange as means of satisfaction, primarily oriented to the use values) and chrematistics (acquisition theory: the acquisition not as a means to an end, but as an indecomposable end in itself, primarily oriented to the exchange values) and criticized the latter most meaningfully in the form of usury, so it is surprising that Sen does not also take up this argumentation structure for the analysis of the social present. For the characteristic of globalization is not the equality of social peace and economic growth praised by Sen (where else should this be possible than in socialism)?), not the use-value side of social production, but precisely its extreme exchange-value aspect: the current domination of finance capital, capital accumulation as a return-oriented material constraint and therefore the subordination of all social spheres to the inherent logic of the market, which does not expand the scope of human action in the sense of Aristotle, but restricts it.

Sen’s approach is also metaphysical, but claims to be anthropological: Sen agrees with Aristotle to be able to state authoritatively what man is, and as sure as we agree with both of them that man is not a worker ant in the sense of neoliberalism, it would have been a good thing if Sen had also taken the trouble to prove this foundation empirically and anthropologically in human society and its history. But maybe these exciting questions are worth to be discussed in the next book of Sen…