The Great Recession And Its Implications For Human Values And The Philosophy Of Social Relations seeks to explore the current global recession; responses to it, its impact on human values and social relations; its problems and pitfalls and the implications for development.
The recent economic crisis has recast attention on the appropriate model for development. Capitalism, which had been singularly hegemonic particularly since the demise of the Soviet Union, faces a crisis of credibility.
The past 20 years have seen an even greater level of globalisation and progress in social development in some countries of the South, advances in the usage of technology and improvement in standards of living in some parts of the world. However, rapacious market license has become the norm and inequality has worsened. To varying degrees, crises in financial markets and in prices of food and fuel have manifested intermittently in this period. At the same time, the distance between financial market activity and the real economy has widened.
This culminated in what started as a financial crisis in 2008, subsequently spreading to the real economy. Financial institutions, through reckless lending and manipulation of financial instruments, enabled by minimal regulation, have thrown the financial system and the global economy into turmoil.
Given the experiences in most developed countries, the free market economy can no longer claim infallibility. Conversely, state activism is receiving renewed attention. China’s impressive economic performance and the experiences of the Asian Tigers as well as Brazil and India, led by the state, have only served to validate that re-consideration. Similarly, the Scandinavian model underpinned by redistributive welfarism and low levels of inequality deserves closer examination.
It is argued that the evolution of the neo-liberal market system – represented among others by the ‘trickle-up effect’ (obscene packages for executives and the widening gap in relation to ‘the 99%’ of society), short-termism in the conduct of business, poorly regulated financial markets and youth marginalisation – was bound to lead to macro-economic collapse and social instability. The question though is whether this is a crisis of the capitalist system per se, or of a variant of the system. What are the other variants, and how do they relate to individual initiative and market competition, the role of the state, democracy, and the technical aspects of globalisation?
Indeed, attached to this is the extent to which the growing disparity between the rich and the poor within and among countries is reflective of the decline of humane social relations and human values.
Historically, a variety of philosophical, economic and political approaches to the question of the relationship between the state, the market and the citizen have been posited in seeking to clarify how social relations should be managed and to craft sustainable social systems. While the Left has been an active participant in this discourse, its absence in current debates is striking.
It has become pertinent to revisit these debates against the backdrop of attempts to deal with the global crisis, the evidence of new economic powers on the rise and the possibility of some economic decoupling between the South and the North. This will allow for a dispassionate interrogation of how the management of domestic and global social relations can be made more responsive to collective human needs and wants.
This project, therefore, proposes to study the evolution of factors that have precipitated the current global crisis and how the capitalist system is striving to regenerate itself, the various models where the state assumes a leading role in development, and those models where other forms of redistribution have been applied. The aim is to enrich discourse on models of development, and at the same time discern the elements that may be relevant for South Africa.