George Walford: Base Over Tip

During one of the kerfuffles about financial arrangements within the EC, a writer in the Financial Times declared: ‘Amid the turmoil and confusion of the past few days, one fact emerges ever starker: politics and diplomacy can no more resist the logic of international economic forces than King Canute could turn back an incoming tide.’ (Edmund Balls, Financial Times Aug 2, 93) We do not propose to deny or even question the statement made, but to raise a wider question: What determines those economic forces?

Economic forces arise, eventually, from the activities of production and consumption, and these sound pretty basic. If we don’t consume we die, and although there was a time when humanity consumed without producing, that is not an option with a population of anything like the present size; the maintenance of present society requires production as well as consumption.

If, going beyond what the Financial Times writer has said here, we generalise his statement, it comes close to saying that the material determines the ideological, and Karl Marx did say this, speaking of an ‘economic base’ that in the last analysis determined the ‘ideological superstructure.’ He and the Financial Times do not stand at opposite ends of the ideological range, but a large part of it falls between them; when they agree on an idea it is one widely held. Ought we to accept this one? Not if we want our thinking to be in line with social realities.

Production, and consumption too, occupies a position less basic than is often thought. They both rest upon an ideological factor, namely the general (but not universal, remember suicides) preference for life rather than death. Without this consumption, and production too, would lose all reason for existence, and without them there would be no economy and no economic forces.

Finally, basically, fundamentally, in the last analysis, economics depends upon ideology rather than vice versa.

– – –

COMMERCIAL arithmetic: ‘46% of agents said prices had risen, and another 46% reported prices stable, with a further 46% saying they were steady.’ (London Property News, June 1994)