Whatever. There were fourteen mentions of "values" in the Europe speech, eighteen today. An inflation in values, or at least in words about values, almost worthy of Jacqui Smith's expenses claim. They are "enduring values", "shared global values" and even "the values we celebrate in our everyday lives" which, somehow, "we must reshape our global economic system" to respect. In a passage copied almost word for word from his Europe speech - he must think it especially meaningful - he asserted that "most people want a market that is free, but never values-free, a society that is fair but not laissez faire", and that "across the world our task is to agree global economic rules that reflect our enduring values."
He thinks that "values" are not only separate from the market, but virtually incompatible with it. The "free market" is, in Brown's view, comprised of recklessness, selfishness and greed, and is thus only acceptable when firmly controlled by, one assumes, politicians:
But as we are discovering to our considerable cost, the problem is that without transparent rules to guide them, free markets can reduce all relationships to transactions, all motivations to self interest, all sense of value to consumer choices, all sense of worth to a price tag So unbridled and untrammeled, they can become the enemy of the good society.
The truth is that the virtues we admire most and make society flourish - hard work, taking responsibility, being honest, being fair - these are not values that spring from the market, they are the values we bring to it. They don’t come from market forces they come from the heart, and they are the values nurtured in families and in schools, in our shared institutions and our neighbourhoods.
The notion that values spring "from the heart" is so vague as to be almost meaningless. Nor can they be reduced to "rules" - though so much of the New Labour agenda has assumed that that they can. Later, in what I imagine is a nod in the direction of his audience, he asserted that the values he's so keen on have their origin in religion:
Christians do not say that people shoufd be reduced merely to what they can produce or what they can buy - that we should let the weak go under and only the strong survive. No, we say do to others what you would have them do unto you.
And when Judaism says love your neighbour as yourself. When Muslims say no one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. When Buddhists say hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. When Sikhs say treat others as you would be treated yourself. When Hindus say the sum of duty is do not unto others which would cause pain if done to you, they each and all reflect a sense that we all share the pain of others, and a sense that we believe in something bigger than ourselves - that we cannot be truly content while others face despair, cannot be completely at ease while others live in fear, cannot be satisfied while others are in sorrow. We all feel, regardless of the source of our philosophy, the same deep moral sense that each of us is our brother and sisters’ keeper.
What he's talking about, the "golden rule", has however little or nothing to do with "the heart", and is not the product of any particular religious insight - though the founders and theorists of religion have usually co-opted it. It is, rather, the fundamental building block of, yes, markets. It is about mutuality and exchange, honest dealing, the foundation of the relationship of trust that makes the market system possible. In a genuinely free market, your choice of trading partner will be based on a number of factors, including reputation, efficiency, quality of service or product and, of course, price (which is, at base, a guarantee that the other party is not trying to profiteer at your expense). A genuinely free market will reward effort and punish shoddiness and sharp practice. A genuinely free market does not need morality to be imposed upon it; it is rather the source of morality.
Brown has things quite the wrong way around. Rather than morality (or "values") being extraneous to the market, something which must be imposed to make the market function in an acceptable manner, it springs from the human experience of relating one to another, of which trade is merely a formalisation. Biologists have traced the golden rule to the phenomenon of reciprocal altruism, of which (appropriately, no doubt) vampire bats are the classic illustration. It is in the interest of bats to share the fruits of their bloodsucking with other, less advantaged bats, because the night may come when they themselves will have to rely on the generosity of a fellow bat. From such humble beginnings derive our ethics, our markets, and all the most valuable insights of religion.
But what is a "value" anyway? It is a measure of what something is worth. And a "worthy" person is morally an upright one. It can't be a coincidence that so high a proportion of our ethical - and even religious - vocabulary consists of metaphors derived from the market, as do many terms of approbation. "She has a heart of gold", we say. "He's a diamond". So-and-so has "stirling qualities". If someone does you a favour you are in their debt, you owe them. And there's no such thing as a free lunch. Sooner or later will come payback time. You will be held to account for your actions.
As for religion, the Old Testament reports that the king of Babylon was "weighed in the balance and found wanting", and tells us that the price of a virtuous woman is "far above rubies". In the "parable of the talents" (a talent being a large quantity of silver) Jesus speaks of spiritual capital as a sum of money with which you should speculate to accumulate. Respect, in life, has to be earned. Conversely, we believe that criminals should "pay" for their crimes, that betrayal is a sell-out and that politicians who lecture the rest of us while enjoying the privileges of office are morally bankrupt.