Reviving a post-capitalist breath

Ahmed Danyal Arif, UK

Despite many prior warnings, a number of developed countries were clearly unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic. This monumental failure of institutional effectiveness will reverberate for the rest of the decade, but it’s never too early to ask why.

Many would pin the blame on a designated scapegoat. But the harsh reality is that every part of the world failed — almost no Western country, or state, or city was prepared — despite hard work and often extraordinary sacrifices by some people within these institutions.

Without a doubt, this lack of foresight derives its essence from an ideology promoting a necessary (or at least highly desired) triumph of an unbridled financial capitalism. The problem is what we didn’t do in advance, and what we are failing to do now. And that is a failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to think beyond and to work together for the greater good.

Is the problem money? That seems hard to believe when we have the money to wage endless wars and repeatedly bailout incumbent banks. In fact, the circle is complete: the “too big to fail” theory has become global. Developed countries, including China, whose contemporary history is synonymous with capitalism, have forced their central banks to become state agents of ultimate reassurance, providers of perpetual resources not generated by the real economy but necessary for the pursuit of their model of society.

Is the problem then related to the economic system? To a significant extent, yes. Capitalism is sick and the disease can only get worse. It is slowly losing its status and people are realising that there are inherent risks and injustices embedded within it. We should not arrogantly presume that it will remain pre-eminent forevermore. And yet, clouds are gathering over this system, which today shows signs of rupture that allow us to anticipate its decline.

But let’s be honest: who can claim to understand exactly what is happening in the global economy today? It is no surprise that the data used by economists and other social scientists rarely elicit unimpeachable answers. They are human-related data and the human being cannot be manipulated as a laboratory object. The rub is that we have never given the economist the mental tools to grasp the whole. Since the widespread abandonment of theology, no field of study has sought to understand the human condition as a whole.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the modern study of economics began as a branch of moral philosophy. Adam Smith, the so-called theorist of modern capitalism was first and foremost a moral philosopher. His work entitled ‘The Wealth of Nations‘ was not written to show us how to make a lot of money, but rather how to promote fair and equitable relationships between human beings. Rooted in ethics, the message hidden in all economic discourses has to do with human values and the kind of society we want to build.

Indeed, despite the procession of social suffering it has generated, the current crisis is often presented as strictly economic and health. But we forget to point out the deep moral crisis of the economic system.

Through the voice of its second Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad (ra), the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been calling for this crucial point to be considered:

A nonbeliever is of course free to view economic problems inisolation. But a religious person would not judge an economic system from purely an economic perspective. He would demand an economic system that also respects his moral and religious requirements.” [i]

Certainly, ethics and morals are undeniable factors which must be taken into account in all economic analyses and theories. We cannot judge an economic system from purely an economic perspective. Otherwise, the system would be only guided by a sentiment of brutality which continues to explain to us that man is a wolf for man. Thus, economics is also a moral science in which the paramount element is the intentions of economic agents. If a government, guided by a capitalist logbook, changes the incentive structure of society to align with the assumption that human nature is selfish, then one can be sure that human beings will begin to act exactly in that way.

Our developed countries were built on production and on building. Our forefathers and foremothers built roads and trains, farms and factories, and uncounted numbers of other things that we now take for granted, that are all around us, that define our lives and provide for our well-being. There is only one way to honour their legacy and to create the future we want for our own children and grandchildren, and that is to build a brand-new economic paradigm.

The question should not be how to play one’s card individually, but how can we achieve the well-being of all collectively. Every side needs to contribute to building, and we should be working to ensure that fairness and equality underpin the world’s current financial system.

Even though none of the prevailing major economic worldviews are totally materialistic and hedonistic, there are significant differences amongst them in terms of the emphasis they place on material and spiritual goals and the role of moral values in ordering human affairs. While material goals concentrate primarily on goods and services that contribute to physical comfort and well-being, spiritual goals include nearness to God, justice, honesty, mutual care, cooperation, peace of mind and inner happiness. These may not be quantifiable, but are, nevertheless, vital for realising human well-being.


[1] Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad (ra), The Economic System of Islam, Islam International Publications Ltd., 2013, p. 40.