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The Handbook of Political Economy of Communications by Janet Wasko, Graham Murdock, Helena Sousa

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Political Economies as Moral Economies

Commodities, Gifts, and Public Goods

Graham Murdock

Goods and the Good Life

Economics, as it emerged as an academic discipline at the turn of the twentieth century, claimed to offer a scientific basis for the study of economic affairs. Its dominant form presented capitalism as a network of markets, regulated by rational self-interest, whose organization and outcomes could be modeled mathematically. Empirical inquiry was fenced off from questions of value, cutting the links to moral philosophy that had been central to the project of political economy launched in the late eighteenth century as part of a more general search for a secular basis for moral action. The catastrophic financial crash set in motion by the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank in September 2008 has now forced questions of ethics back into discussions of economic affairs in the most brutal way.

This “moral turn” is particularly marked in Britain where, for over a decade, the City of London has been uncritically celebrated as one of the key hubs of the new capitalism and left to compete in the global marketplace with the minimum of oversight. The social and human costs are now being counted in rising unemployment, decimated retirement savings, and savage cuts in public provision as funding for essential services is diverted to pay for the unprecedented scale of government borrowing required to bail out failing banks. Despite the havoc visited on countless working lives, many ...

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