From reading the newspapers over the last year, anyone would think that the financial crisis was an issue of individual morality. If only these bankers hadn’t been so greedy, none of this would have happened in the first place. The problem with this approach is that it leads one to believe that the problem lies with individuals – a few bad apples – whereas the truth is that the problem is a systemic one.
This is the point I want to stress: the problem we’re facing is not a matter of morals or individuals; it’s an entire economic system – capitalism. For Marx, for example, capitalism is a process. A capitalist is neither good nor evil; he or she is simply, to quote David Harvey, ‘an economic agent who puts money and use values into circulation to make more money.’ Capitalists may revel in their roles and internalize the values of the system by becoming increasingly greedy, or, on the other hand, they may be charitable saints: this is irrelevant. What matters is that they are personifications of the economic relations that exist between them.
If this chafes against our romantic liberal ears, all the better. In fact, let’s go one further, just to provoke a little: today, where it really matters, man is an economic machine, and unless we accept that unpleasant fact our protests are false and politically regressive.