Sunday, March 13, 2005

Deconstructing Hayek

I came across this article on the web by Sean Johnson Andrews critical of the Regulation School of Economics that also handily dismisses the Austrian School of Economics so favored by Neo-Conservatives and Right Wing Libertarians.

[Author’s aside: I found it while researching material for Libertarian Anti-Imperialism, ah the joys of research based writing, it takes you off in all directions at once. And serendipitous synergies occur as happened in this case.[1] ]

Andrews study is about cultural production under capitalism, especially media concentration, and the whole article is an excellent read as are his other writings ( I have included a link to his article on blog freedom as a comment to my Blog Freedom or Cyberwar). He asks if bourgeois political economy which wants be taken seriously as a science but what kind of science and what kind of economics? He does an excellent job challenging the neo-classical school of the economics including its most radical wing the Austrian School of Economics from a libertarian dialectical position.

I have excerpted some of his critique from this long article, the whole of which is well worth the read. I have excerpted a small section of his very long article dealing with neo-classical economics of the Austrian and Chicago Schools of Economics as well as the new Regulation School of Economics.

Excerpts From: A Conversation among Bourdieu, Regulationist Economics and Cultural Studies and the way they can help objectify this and other conjunctures

The Science of Culture and the Culture of Science:

From Culture and Political Economy (Spring 2003)

Sean Johnson Andrews

Sean Johnson Andrews Blog on Media

Where, if anywhere, ideology leaves off and science begins has been the Sphinx’s Riddle of much of modern sociological thought and the ruthless weapon of its enemies. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973

At the present time, scientific effort mirrors an economy filled with contradictions. The economy is in large measure dominated by monopolies, and yet on the world scale it is disorganized and chaotic, richer than ever yet unable to eliminate human wretchedness. Science, too, shows a double contradiction. Max Horkheimer, “Notes on Science and the Crisis,” c.1930

The] neoclassical consensus succeeded in replacing the labor theory of value with one grounded in subjective utility and placed the ideas of ‘marginal product’ and ‘final demand’ at the center while elbowing into the wings the concepts of total demand. With these new ideas [. . .] the economy came to be thought of less in terms of material production and reproduction and more as a logic of human action. (79)

To make matters worse, this is the model of economics that is most strongly believed as rational and verifiable by a great many capitalist subjects.

The same social alchemy is true of economic capital and, like the capital in the scientific field, capital in the economic or symbolic field, legitimated by a hierarchy of producers, is more than just a mode of exchange: it is also a mode of domination.

Regulationist economics is concerned with “the study of the transformation of social relations as it creates new forms that are organized into structures and themselves reproduce a determinant structure, the mode of production”(16). This characterization of the economy seems similar to the Polanyian idea of embeddedness, which he describe in detail in The Great Transformation. In short, embeddedness is a way of giving primacy to one social formation over another. Polanyi insists that before the development of modern market capitalism in the 19th century, “the human economy was always embedded in society”(xxiii) and, more importantly,

The idea of a [disembedded] self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness. Inevitably, society took measures to protect itself, but whatever measures it took impaired the self-regulation of the market, disorganized industrial life, and thus endangered society in yet another way. (3-4)

This is understanding of the relations between the economy, society and the state is, indeed, similar to the Regulationist view, but they tend to posit the agency with the market instead of with society. The concept of a Regime of Accumulation, central to the school, is not concerned with the effect of capitalism on society per se, but rather on the way that society can be best transformed to accommodate capitalism. It could be said that, in relation to Polanyi, they recognize that there are times when the relation between the two is unique. The concepts of a the predominantly extensive and intensive regimes of accumulation indicate this understanding. The former is the regime of accumulation which Polanyi might call “disembedded;” it is “that in which relative surplus value is obtained by transforming the organization of labor; the traditional way of life may persist or be destroyed, but it is not radically recomposed by the logic of utilitarian funcitonalism”(Aglietta, 71). This is the type of accumulation regime, according to Aglietta, which existed in late nineteenth-century America.

The crisis of worldwide depression and the rise of fascism that ensued when this accumulation regime could no longer continue is what Polanyi has witnessed when he says, in 1944, “nineteenth-century civilization has collapsed.” But whereas Polanyi thinks this is primarily the social result of an economic phenomenon, Aglietta describes it as a social phenomenon with economic consequences: “The Great Depression [. . .] was a major crisis of accumulation because the transformation of the labor process itself set up obstacles to valorization. What was at stake in the crisis was the transformation of the conditions of existence on the working class”(95).

What this understanding of capitalism points to is the “progressive, historical role of capitalism”(Lenin, 47) which Aglietta describes as only being fully possible in an intensive regime of accumulation, or some other “set of mechanisms for social mediation that guide the accumulation of capital in the direction of social progress”(Aglietta, 412). The description of he gives of this concept is important because it points to the place where Bourdieu’s understanding of habitus becomes relevant to the Regulationist description of capitalism:

The predominantly intensive regime of accumulation creates a new mode of life for the wage-earning class by establishing a logic that operates on the totality of time and space occupied or traversed by its individuals in daily life. A social consumption norm is formed, which no longer depends in any way on communal life [. . . .] This norm is stratified according to principles that closely correspond to the stratification of social groups within the wage-earning class. The intensive regime of accumulation accomplishes an integration of the two departments of production that makes possible a far more regular pace of accumulation and a far more rapid increase in the rate of surplus value.(71)

Packed into this quote are several ideas that become more fully articulated concepts in the hands of later Regulationist theorists. So, the “mode of life” which Aglietta mentions above, becomes a mode of regulation and the “logic that operates on the totality of time and space” is similar to Alain Lipietz’s description of a schema of reproduction (32-33).

Aglietta describes the major problem of capitalism in terms that are similar to Althusser and the conception of “capital” as quite similar to eponymous idea in Bourdieu: “we conceive of capital not as an eminent entity but as the development of the wage relation. Every major crisis of accumulation is a crisis of the present conditions of reproduction of this relation”(Aglietta, 169). The idea of a “schema reproduction” is something which is meant to stem this crisis in the production relation or the “reproduction of the material conditions of production”(Althusser, Lenin, 127). The schema of reproduction accounts for the relationship of labor, the relationship between departments of production, and the patterns of distribution and consumption which all together form “the skeleton of a regime of accumulation or a mathematical diagram of its social coherence”(Lipietz, 32). This system of relations is not necessarily planned or settled upon before it is implemented, it is just the schema that was “found” to work. And the schema works in so far as there is a “mode of regulation” that is appropriate: “If any schema is to be realized and to reproduce itself for any length of time, there must be institutional forms, procedures and habits which either coerce or persuade private agents to conform to its schemas”(33). Thus the “mode of regulation” is almost identical to the habitus.

In relation to Bourdieu’s capital, which again, Aglietta describes as a development of the relation, capitalism can be conceived in terms of a certain formalization of an economic field. However, there is a highly stratified relation between the people able to accumulate capital and the people who only serve as, what could be called, relational support, for their accumulation. Workers, whose laboring capacity may reward them with symbolic capital within the field of economic relations, are not typically able to accumulate enough of the economic capital (which their work valorizes) to change their position in the field. Thus there has to be a strong relation of domination within the field which encourages a disposition for the worker to continue to play this relational support role when it is clearly more in the interest of the capitalist for him to do so.

For unlike other, more settled sciences, economics has had a difficult history in convincing other practitioners from other sciences that it has the same sort of quantitative verifiability of mathematics or physics. Its status as a social science makes its seem less authoritative among other scientists. On the other hand, its status as a social science having to do with the basic relations of humankind gives its authoritative practitioners a great deal of symbolic capital, even as many of them attempt to disconnect their theories from the messy assemblages of power and production that they are supposed to describe. Friedrich Hayek, whose most famous book Road to Serfdom, was published the same year as Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, went to far as to suggest that the term “society” should be stricken from “our poisoned language” (Hayek, 112-115), making a point of not using the term to describe “our extended moral order” lest he be branded a socialist.

This dimension of the authoritative position of economics is evident enough in common parlance. Nevertheless, an example of an attempt to move outside of the scientific field to accumulate symbolic capital is visible on George Mason University’s home page in iterations such as “Welcome Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith.” As Yves Gringas points out in a short article about the “Nobel prize by association,” she traces a particularly clear case of “social alchemy:” “this so-called ‘Nobel prize’ is an extraordinary case study in the successful transformation of economic capital into symbolic capital, a transformation which greatly inflates the symbolic power of the discipline of Economics in the public mind.”

In 1968, the Bank of Sweden, interested in conferring a greater legitimacy on the discipline of economics, decided to offer a prize to the most innovative and important thinkers in the field and to dedicate it to Alfred Nobel, which was strange since he wasn’t an economist. However, the organizers in charge of the creation of the “Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel “ had its their own reasons for choosing Nobel. As Gringas tells it:

First, despite the skepticism of some scientists towards the ‘scientificity’ of economics, the Bank managed to convince the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation to administer their prize. Secondly, identical procedures for the selection and nomination of the prize were chosen to those of the real Nobel prizes. Of course, the prize money would come from the Bank of Sweden, not the Nobel Foundation, but all the rest would be done exactly as if it was in fact a Nobel prize, up to and including the ceremony of 10 December.

Furthermore, since the full name of the prize is too onerous for people (especially journalists) to say, it became common parlance to call the prize “The Nobel Prize in Economics.” This work of social alchemy meant to solve the problem of the “primitive accumulation of symbolic capital”(Gringas) regarding this prize and its related field.

Of course not everyone has been happy about this. In 1974, when Gunnar Myrdel shared the prize with Hayek in 1974, he reserved his speech to advocate for the abolition of the prize. If Hayek was supposed to be the best an brightest in the field, then he wanted nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, the prize continues, despite the abyssal divide between what are arguably, ideological points of difference within the field itself. Which brings us back to the early 1970s and the intervention which Michel Aglietta was, arguably, attempting to make.

Fordism –or as the theoretical component was better known, Keynesianism—was obviously in crisis since both of the “cyclical” tendencies—stagnation and inflation—were happening at once; Althusser and others on the “New Left” were inspired both by world events and the appearance of any sort of crisis tendency in the capitalist system; and, perhaps more importantly, Hayek had just won the “Nobel prize in Economics” and Milton Friedman and the Chicago school were hard at work turning Pinochet’s Chile into a neo-liberal paradise. Finally, on a monetary level, abandoning the gold standard and replacing it with the “black gold” standard of recycled petrodollars was developing an extension of the financial markets and giving unprecedented control of world capital over to a “stratified oligopoly” of private banks. It was an important moment for economic science because, again, “history has infinitely more imagination than we do.” It was a moment when the flaws of the dominant economic model—and the theories that were supposed to explain it—were showing through. It was a good time to revert to a subversion strategy and, as a graduate student, Aglietta was in the sort of position Bourdieu recommends to make the heretical invention. But instead of saying anything too revolutionary, what he actually did was to begin by make an originally strong set of economic concepts into a set of symbolically legitimate equations: he rewrote the basic arguments of Capital, starting with one that Adam Smith himself would find it hard to contest.

As was said before, by Caporaso and Levine, the labor theory of value, a foundational concept in Marx’s Capital, had been disproven. Caporaso and Levine themselves, in their textbook which purports to explain economic theories, are unable to explain LTV without providing a neo-classical excuse for it. In the section supposedly devoted to the theories of Adam Smith, Ricardo, etc., they do not describe labor theory of value in any detail, but instead revert to the statement, “the theory runs into a number of analytical difficulties, which convinced modern economists working in the classical tradition to build a materialist basis for exchange by employing a distinct starting point also present in the classical theories: price of production”(47). They then go on to explain the changes to they make to equations of inputs and outputs (10t iron + 250 bu wheat + 100 hr labor…): “when labor enters as an input, it is really so much wheat, which went to produce the labor, and enters as an input through its product, the laboring capacity of the worker”(50).

Leaving aside the problems of all the naked, sickly, wheat-fed laborers sleeping on the factory floors and the ethical implications of this revolutionary new crop of wheat that evidently plows, plants, grows and harvests, mills and bakes itself, what is important is that Caporaso and Levine, while trying to present an overall balanced look at political economy, are unable to even consider the possibility that the Labor Theory of Value has any theoretical validity. Instead, it makes much more sense to think of things in terms of some monetary equivalent, the amount of which, in one way or another, “indicates the utility that the seeker recognizes in the materiality of the object sold or on offer” (Nadel, 29).

In other words, even though there have been many theorists in the tradition of Regulationist Political Economy, the dominant groups in the field of economics—especially anyone outside of France—namely the proponents of the neo-classical general equilibrium model taught in every ECON 101 classroom, did not want to acknowledge the possibility of an alternative model for the Labor Theory of Value, even to refute it: to do so would also be to consecrate it and admit that there was a legitimate challenge to the powerful agents and apparatuses, the Departments of Economic theory, all of which have a vested interest in keeping the current model functioning. Not only in terms of the field, which is largely based on these assumptions, but also of the market dominated society in which it operates and for which it provides a placating explanation. As Aglietta says, “If this theory has exercised such a dictatorship over economic thought, it is because it supplies a reassuring vision of society and a justification for the profession of economist”(10).

This, of course, brings us full circle to the central dialectical problem of the need for a simultaneous understanding of the culture of science and a science of culture. The former is something which Cultural Studies has done vigorously but not rigorously. The basic assumption was that one could simply understand scientific or even merely disciplinary claims as ideological cultural productions.

The project of cultural studies is an important one and the cultural significance of economic science is one of the most important ideological investigations we could undertake. There was a time when this type of discussion being engaged. Despite what Murdock and Golding have to say about the problem of “examining the economic base,” Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams and others began to present a system of concepts which attempted to illuminate the dynamic nature and role of culture—starting primarily in its very material nature. As Williams says in Marxism and Literature:

The insertion of economic determinations into cultural studies is of course the special contribution of Marxism, and there are times when its simple insertion is an evident advance. But in the end it can never be a simple insertion, since what is required, beyond the limiting formulas, is restoration of the whole social material process, and specifically of cultural production as social and material.(138)

Williams goes on to begin the project he continues in The Sociology of Culture in which the most basic task “is analysis of the interrelationships within this complex unity: a task distinct from reduced sociology of institutions, formations, and communication relationships and yet, as a sociology, radically distinct also from the analysis of isolated forms”(139). This loose set of concepts—as well as the many others he presents to describe cultural (as normally in the creative and/or artistic sense)—is developed with an eye to make the realm of cultural production describable so that the investigator could then position that process within the production relations.


[Author’s aside. This is why I currently run four blogs and over the past decade have had multiple web pages. This log is for longer features, which is supplemented by my site at modblog for news over views of the current crisis state of capitalism and the resistance of capitalisms subjects. It is why my bloglines site has numerous news, activist and alternative news/blogs linked up to supplement my writings, to give an alternative to what is called consensus reality or the ruling ideas or the ruling class. To give readers more research links. And I can blow off some steam at that blog with my Devils Dictionary Redux.

And I have added a new blog this week; Heresiology-for the little heretic in each of us. This is for my other interests in cultural studies, the occult, esoterica, science, crypto science, and all aspects of popular culture, as the saying goes; all the news that doesn’t fit in these other blogs.]

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