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President: We need to examine how we gauge human worth

Michael D Higgins was speaking at Dublin City University last night on the subject of an ethical economy.

President Michael D Higgins
President Michael D Higgins
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

THE SUBJECT OF an ethical economy was discussed by President Michael D Higgins during a speech at Dublin City University last night.

President Higgins was taking part in the Ethics for All public lecture series organised by Dublin City University and the Matter Dei Institute of Education.

During his speech, he said that the current state of the European economy, “with its high levels of unemployment, poverty and increasing inequality, is a source of concern, anxiety and even moral outrage for many of our fellow citizens”.

He suggested last night that “the problem might not lie so much in a lack of the right answers to this most recent crisis of capitalism as in an absence of the right questions”.

Crisis

The President said that the recent crisis has failed, so far, to prompt any self-examination within departments of economics in universities across the world, as to how economics is taught and should be taught, “and what the consequences are of teaching in terms of policy prescription”.

He questioned how to embed a strong ethical dimension in the structures that shape our collective life.

Higgins suggested that a first avenue for this is education, and that there would be “considerable merit” in introducing the teaching of philosophy in our schools. This, said Higgins “could facilitate the fostering of an ethical consciousness in our fellow citizens”.

He said a second possible purpose for action is to examine the means to imbed in both our ideology and our institutions “values that emphasise the irreducibly social and relational dimension of the human condition”.

The President described care, love and friendship as “powerful heuristic tools for the general purpose of our discussion on ethics and economics”.

Higgins added he believes that we need to re-examine the categories by which we gauge economic value and human worth, as well as the language we use to do this.

It is not an exaggeration to say that we live in times where economic worth is primarily seen as a matter of productive capacity.

Higgins said that this is reflected in the use of measures for growth as the principal measure of economic health, “even if that growth does not impact on the levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality”.

According to Higgins, we need to make sure that all institutions allow for democratic deliberations on economic policy choices, “that no particular sector gets preferential treatment in the name of a narrow conception of wealth, and that our media do not foreclose political debate on economic matters”.

As a nation, we should be able to reflect on economic issues in a way that respects discourse, even if we are to disagree, said Higgins.

He concluded by stressing that alternative scenarios for the future are fundamental to any kind of democratic debate. “Finally, we must reclaim the future as an arena of hope,” said the President.

Read: President Higgins: Stigma a major barrier to suicide prevention>

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