Home Forum Political Economy Polanyi and CasP

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  • #245576

    Reviewing Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, it struck me that many of his observations are consistent with and predict CasP, and yet his work, when discussed in some of the longer CasP texts (e.g., Capital as Power and Debt is Power), is done so in passing.

    On the separation of politics and economics:

    And just as the transition to a democratic system and representative politics involved a complete reversal of the trend of the age, the change from regulated to self-regulating markets at the end of the eighteenth century represented a complete transformation in the structure of society.

    A self-regulating market demands nothing less than the institutional separation of society into an economic and a political sphere. Such a dichotomy is, in effect, merely the restatement, from the point of view of society as a whole, of the existence of a self-regulating market. It might be argued that the separateness of the two spheres obtains in every type of society at all times. Such an inference, however, would be based on a fallacy. True, no society can exist without a system of some kind which ensures order in the production and distribution of goods. But that does not imply the existence of separate economic institutions; normally, the economic order is merely a function of the social order. Neither under tribal nor under feudal nor under mercantile conditions was there, as we saw, a separate economic system in society. Nineteenth-century society, in which economic activity was isolated and imputed to a distinctive economic motive, was a singular departure.

    On power and creorder:

    Such an institutional pattern could not have functioned unless society was somehow subordinated to its requirements. A market economy can exist only in a market society. We reached this conclusion on general grounds in our analysis of the market pattern. We can now specify the reasons for this assertion. A market economy must comprise all elements of industry, including labor, land, and money. (In a market economy money also is an essential element of industrial life and its inclusion in the market mechanism has, as we will see, far-reaching institutional consequences.) But labor and land are no other than the human beings themselves of which every society consists and the natural surroundings in which it exists. To include them in the market mechanism means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market.

    Has anybody in the CasP conversation (critic or proponent) explored/discussed Polanyi’s relevance (or, perhaps, importance) to CasP?

    Please let me know. Thanks.

    –Scot

     

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    • #245577
      Jonathan Nitzan
      • Topics started: 21
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      Reviewing Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, it struck me that many of his observations are consistent with and predict CasP

      Polanyi is famous for arguing that people, land and money are ‘fictitious’ commodities, and that subjugating them to the ‘free market’ is bound to end in a backlash.

      The idea that the economy ‘interacts’ with society is common to liberalism (through distortions) and Marxism (via the base/superstructure distinction). Can you explain how, in your view, it is consistent with/predictive of CasP?

      • #245591
        Scot Griffin
        • Topics started: 5
        • Total posts: 50

        You said:

        Polanyi is famous for arguing that people, land and money are ‘fictitious’ commodities, and that subjugating them to the ‘free market’ is bound to end in a backlash.

        The idea that the economy ‘interacts’ with society is common to liberalism (through distortions) and Marxism (via the base/superstructure distinction). Can you explain how, in your view, it is consistent with/predictive of CasP?

        I first read Polanyi’s The Great Transformation maybe a decade ago.  I am only returning it to now because of an essay I am writing, and after having recently immersed myself in CasP theory (thanks to Blair for pointing me to the free e-book version of your book, which I subsequently bought on Kindle, as well), the similarities were obvious.

        While I don’t disagree that CasP is significantly different than Polanyi’s body of work, and it may be that Polanyi did not influence you at all, but I cannot ignore my reaction to re-reading The Great Transformation and seeing a relationship between his observations and the foundational observations (but not outlines) of CasP.

        While I originally tried to explain my view by quoting Polanyi directly, let me try again.

        First, it is clear that Polanyi views the distinction between economics and politics as artificial and false. The artificiality of the dichotomy he explains explicitly by referring to its absence in prior societies despite the obvious fact of trade in all prior societies. The falsity of the dichotomy he implies through his argument that state action was required to create and enforce the dichotomy.

        Where he differs from CasP, and where CasP is wrong, is that Polanyi refuses to reject the reality, as a practical matter, of the institutional separation of economic and political institutions.  Thus, the economics/politics dichotomy is not wholly false, but partially true (personally, I prefer Mirowski’s concept of “Double Truth,” which a purely dialectical approach seems incapable of grasping). The power of capital flows from the state power to control the money supply, which renders the assertion of “separation” of the two spheres as false, but the fact remains that capital has been successful at creating separate “economic” institutions (e.g., central banks and, more importantly, commercial banks).

        Second, it is clear that Polanyi recognizes that capitalism (which he implicitly equates with liberalism by how he defines liberalism and the timing of its birth, i.e., 1820-1840) created a new social order (“creordered”) by subordinating society (i.e., the state and its citizens) to “the market.” The word “subordination” implies a change in relative power, does it not?  I certainly think so. I also believe there is no such thing as “the market” once capital inserts itself as an intermediary between ALL economic transactions, e.g., by taking control of the supply of money and credit.

        To reduce Polanyi down to his discussion of “fictitious commodities” entirely misses the point of his double movement argument, which is very much in line with CasP in that the assertion of power gives rise to resistance to that assertion. Further, it misses the source of that resistance, which Polanyi accurately describes as a desire to further the same ideals that capitalism/liberalism claimed to advocate. CasP has yet to describe why or how resistance to capital will arise, it only promises that it must. In this sense, Polanyi’s theory is more fully formed and concrete than CasP.

        I hope I have helped you to understand my point of view, and I am happy to continue the conversation.

        Best regards,

        –Scot

        • #245616
          Jonathan Nitzan
          • Topics started: 21
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          I think Polanyi is correct in saying that the idea and institutions of the so-called “self-regulating market” were enforced on society rather than emerged from it organically.

          But in one crucial respect, Polanyi’s view is still completely different than if not totally opposed to CasP.

          Polanyi claims that the politics-economics duality is both real and false. And yet, when it comes to capital, he accepts it fully. Like all other political economists, capital for him is an ‘economic’ entity. His Great Transformation is concerned almost solely with the emergence of capitalism. It offers no alternative concept of capital. In fact, it does not deal with this concept at all. He accepts the triple economic division of industrial-commercial-financial capital, and he goes on to argue that humans, land and money are ‘fictitious’ commodities – implying that other commodities are not.

          In CasP, there is no division between industrial, commercial and financial capital: all capital is finance and only finance. Moreover, all commodities – i.e. all priced items — are creatures of the social imagination. Lastly and most importantly, capital is the commodification of power writ large, and therefore transcends the politics-economy duality to start with.

          I should also mention that Polanyi’s notion/critique of the ‘self-regulating market’ — which he shares with many other heterodox thinkers — is also very different than CasP’s. The following section is from our Capital as Power (2009: 306-7):

          The power role of the market cannot be overemphasized – particularly since, as we have seen throughout the book, most observers deny it and many invert it altogether. Analytically, the inversion proceeds in three simple steps. It begins by defining the market as a voluntary, self-regulating mechanism. It continues by observing that such a mechanism leaves no room for the imposition of power. And it ends by concluding that power and market must be antithetical, and that they can coexist only insofar as the former ‘manipulates’ and ‘distorts’ the latter.

          An example of this inversion is Fernand Braudel’s historical work Civilization & Capitalism (1985). According to Braudel, capitalism negates the market. In his words, there is a conflict between a self-regulating ‘market economy’ on the one hand, and an anti-market ‘capitalist’ zone where social hierarchies ‘manipulate exchange to their advantage’ on the other (Braudel 1977; 1985, Vol. 1: 23–24 and Vol. 2: 229–30). A similar sentiment is expressed by Cornelius Castoriadis, when he proclaims that ‘where there is capitalism, there is no market; and where there is a market, there cannot be capitalism’ (1990: 227).

          The root of the error here lies right at the assumptions. Capitalism cannot negate the market because it requires the market. Without a market, there can be no commodification, and without commodification there can be no capitalization, no accumulation and no capitalism. And the market can fulfil this role precisely because it is never self-regulating (and since it is never self-regulating, there is nothing to ‘manipulate’ or ‘distort’ in the first place). Price is not a utilitarian–productive quantity, but a power magnitude, and the market is the very institution through which this power is quantified. Without this market mediation of power, there can be no profit and, again, no capitalization, no accumulation and no capitalism.

          And there’s more. The market doesn’t merely enable capitalist power, it totally transforms it. And it achieves this transformation by making the capitalist mega-machine modular. The blueprint of this new machine, unlike those of earlier models, is very short. Its essential component is the capitalization/accumulation formula. The formula is special in that it doesn’t specify what the mega-machine should look like. Instead, it stipulates a ‘generative order’, a fractal-like algorithm that allows capitalists to reconstruct and reshape their mega-machine in innumerable ways. The algorithm itself changes so slowly that it seems practically ‘fixed’ (the basic principle of capitalization hasn’t changed much over the past half-millennium). But the historical paths and outcomes generated by this algorithm are very much open-ended, and it is this latter flexibility that makes the capitalist creorder so dynamic.

        • #245620
          Scot Griffin
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          Thank you for your reply.

          To me, it is okay if Polanyi appears to oppose CasP, which came over half a century after The Great Transformation. That does not negate the similarities between his thesis and yours, nor does it render it any less relevant to CasP. Indeed, imagine if CasP came first in time, i.e., imagine The Great Transformation was written through the lens of CasP theory.  What would change? What would stay the same? What would be completely new and different?

          Rather than denying commonalities between CasP and prior theories/theorists, I think it would make sense to embrace those commonalities to further the knowledge, understanding and adoption of CasP.  Polanyi has a wide following in academia to this day, and I think those followers could find common cause with CasP presented as an extension AND rejection of Polanyi’s theories.

          When it comes to “the market,” I have come to the conclusion it does not exist. From the opening of the essay I am writing (and riffing on a famous Margaret Thatcher quote “society”):

          Capitalism conditions people to cast their problems at the Market.  But there is no such thing as “the Market.”  There are transactions between individuals where each transaction is mediated and processed by the financial sector.  And no individual, business or government can do anything except through the financial sector under the conditions it sets and for the tolls it demands.

          Yes, all capital is Finance, and capital is power, but there is no market, just transactions between individuals, which transactions are mediated by Finance (through money, credit, and control of publicly-listed corporations) to the benefit of Finance (and servant capitalists like Bezos, Gates and Musk, more broadly).

          Where I break from CasP is I believe every transaction takes place simultaneously on two parallel circuits. The first circuit involves the circulation of money and credit, which occurs wholly within Finance.  The second circuit involves the circulation of goods and services (including labor), which occurs wholly within the material world. In this sense, I disagree that all “commodities” are “creatures of the social imagination.” Wheat is wheat. Steel is steel. Labor is labor. Etc. It is just that every commodity that is capitalized has a representation or avatar within Finance that is distinct from the representation within the material world, and it is the law that translates between these two representations to exchange value between the two circuits.

          Hence, whether Finance (and capital) dominates the material world, or the material world dominates capital (and Finance) is entirely a matter of what the law says. Refusing to distinguish between Finance and the material world eliminates the ability to see the real control mechanism, the law, which allows the law to remain captive to capital, resulting in CasP’s state of capital.

           

        • #245621
          Jonathan Nitzan
          • Topics started: 21
          • Total posts: 115

          Thank you for the interesting reply, Scot.

          1. Bridges would be very nice, provided they are not forced or impossible. In general, we find CasP bridges difficult to build since, in certain important respects, CasP is incommensurable with conventional political economy. (See ‘Unbridgeable’, 2021, http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/681/.)

          2. You disagree with our claim that all commodities are ‘creatures of the social imagination’, writing that ‘Wheat is wheat. Steel is steel. Labor is labor. Etc.’ But wheat, steel and labor are not commodities. They are mere objects. They become commodities only when they are priced. As an object, a ‘ton of steel’ is qualitatively different from a ‘common stock of Tesla’. As commodities, though, they are qualitatively identical and differ only in price. From a CasP viewpoint, this latter universality — the fact that both can be quantified in dollars — is a creature of the social imagination.

          3. You suggest that ‘the Market’ does not exist. Perhaps, but to assess this claim we must first agree on what ‘the Market’ is.

        • #245622
          Scot Griffin
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          When it comes to building bridges between CasP and other models for understanding capitalism, I guess I am more optimistic than you.  That said, I agree that mainstream economics is essentially a secular religion aimed at perpetuating laws and policies that advantage capital, and professional (esp. academic) mainstream economists are unlikely to convert.

          Perhaps we don’t disagree as much about “commodities” and “creatures of social imagination” as I made it seem. My point is that material things are material things. They don’t cease to be simply because we refuse to label them, nor do they become something else if we label them differently. Yes, words and their meaning matter, and the biggest impediment to building bridges to CasP is language itself.

          As to “the Market,” what do you think it is?  Isn’t it just another creature of social imagination that, unlike “commodities,” has no material or physical properties?

          To me, the term “the Market” is most widely understood as Hayek and his fellow neoliberals present it, as an alternative formulation of society as a collective of the actions of individuals instead of  as a collective of the individuals themselves. Their argument basically becomes “to protect society we must protect the Market.” The problem is that every economic transaction between two individuals includes at least one more party (Finance) who plays a coercive role, which destroys pretty much any definition of “the Market.” The only thing that gets “collected” from every transaction is capital because Finance always commands its share as a middleman.  Thus, “the Market” is really the curtain behind which Finance hides its power.

        • #245628
          Jonathan Nitzan
          • Topics started: 21
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          Some thoughts.

          1. “The” market is vague enough to pin down, so it is hard to decide whether it “exists” or not. Conceived as the overall system of pecuniary exchange, I think we can say it exists. The thing is that there is no agreement on the precise nature of this system, and it is this lack of agreement that makes the question of whether “the” market exists or not difficult to answer.

          2. “A” market is less vague. Economists usually define any given market by (1) the commodity in question, (2) the geographical scope and (3) the time frame. Of course, here too there are ample disagreements — first on the boundaries of these three items, and second and more broadly on the institutions that underpin them. Ask economists to define the “market for computer chips”, “automobiles” or “health services” and you get more answers that you wish to consider and no clear way to decide which of them is “valid.”

          3. I think that in capitalism, the only safe way to use the term “market” is in reference to pecuniary exchange. For example, we can say that “we live in a market society” (i.e. a society dominated by pecuniary exchange), or that there is a “market for cars” (a physical/virtual space where cars are traded for money). But the specific character of this pecuniary exchange is open-ended, both ontologically and epistemologically.

          I’m sure more words can be spilled on this subject, but I’ll stop here.

        • #245651
          Blair Fix
          • Topics started: 2
          • Total posts: 43

          I have mixed feelings about bridge building. On the one hand, it is politically expedient. If the halls of academia are filled with people who believe theory X, then it is surely wise for someone with a new theory to engage with theory X, and to build bridges between their own work and the work of popular scholars.

          Political expediency, however, is not always good science. For instance, I am glad that Galileo did not build bridges with the proponents of geocentrism. He knew he was right and they were wrong. And so he burned bridges … and paid a steep price. But science advanced.

          Of course, there is something to be said for framing your ideas so that people not familiar with them can understand them. In developing his theories of gravity and motion, Newton created a whole new mathematics — calculus. But none of Newton’s contemporaries (except Leibniz) understood calculus. So Newton framed all of his most important arguments without calculus. To the modern observer (who understands calculus) that makes them extremely tedious. But it was a wise choice, given the state of science.

          In the social science, of course, nothing is ever as clear cut. But perhaps this is where I differ from many social scientists … and perhaps why I have been drawn to the work of Nitzan and Bichler. If I think the evidence supports my ideas, I’m happy to burn bridges … in fact I think it is the principled thing to do.

          None of this is to say that Polanyi had no insight. I think he was a fantastic economic historian, as was Marx. I’ve written many harsh words about Marx’s ideas, but when I first read Capital, I was blown away by his account of the enclosures. I as similarly enthralled by Polanyi’s account of the emergence of capitalism. And also Wallerstein’s account.

          • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by Blair Fix.
          • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by Blair Fix.
    • #245586
      Blair Fix
      • Topics started: 2
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      Here’s my two cents about the problems with Polanyi. He writes:

      normally, the economic order is merely a function of the social order.

      This is a perfectly good statement that doesn’t need the ‘normally’ caveat. In fact, we can simplify things:

      the economic order is the social order (and vice versa)

      This is true in every society. The ‘social order’ is what Nitzan and Bichler call a ‘mode of power’, and it gets imposed on all activity (‘economic’ or otherwise). The problem with Polanyi is that he can see this ‘social order’ in feudal societies. But in capitalism he suddenly sees an ‘economic order’ that is distinct from society. Very odd.

      In capitalism, the same principle holds. But now rather than feudal rules, market value is the social order — the mode of power.

      More generally, I challenge anyone to find a society in which social norms and ideology do not determine the way resources are harvested and distributed. In other words, the ‘economy’ (capitalist or otherwise) is always embedded in society.

    • #245588
      Jonathan Nitzan
      • Topics started: 21
      • Total posts: 115

      1. Interaction versus dissolution

      In my work with Shimshon, we have argued that the ‘politics-economics’ duality, born from the early consternation of feudal power by the rising European burgs, has become a fetter on our understanding of capitalism.

      This duality, which is imposed on, exists and accepted as a symbolic fixation at the lower levels of the social hierarchy, is lessened as we move up the scale until it disappears completely at the top levels of dominant capital. For the dominant capitalist-governmental rulers, the categories of ‘economics’ and ‘politics’ (or ‘society’ more generally) dissipate and are replaced by notion of differential power and the various forms of strategic sabotage that underpin it.

      This perspective is quite different from Polanyi, for whom the issue is the interaction between the spheres, rather than their very dissolution.

      2. Creorder

      In CasP, the capitalist creorder — i.e., the ongoing creation of the capitalist order — is applied to the nature of capital. Capital, we argue, is not a productive economic entity but a symbolic financial ritual. It represents neither utility nor productivity, but the creording of differential power writ large.

      It is true that many political economists, including Polanyi, have examined the effect of power on accumulation, whether negative or positive. But to the best of our knowledge, none (not even Veblen) have proposed — let alone theorized and researched — the notion that capital as such is a financial representation of power and nothing but power.

      For more:

      The Capital As Power Approach. An Invited-then-Rejected Interview with Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan, 2020, http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/640/

      CasP’s ‘Differential Accumulation’ versus Veblen’s ‘Differential Advantage’ (Revised and Expanded), 2019, http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/583/

       

       

      • #245656
        ishi crew
        • Topics started: 1
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        “Building Birdges’.

        Some scientists have these artificial distinctions between ‘living matter’ (or organic carbon  based life ) and inorganic ‘nonliving matter’.
        I view it as a disticniton analogous to that between real and fictitious capital.

        This was back in Marx’s days
        (when they still beleived in ‘alienated  labor’  and that there was a ‘war of the wor(l)ds between capital, space aliens  (with no valid IDs–‘go back to your own plan it Idaho) ,  economics, and power.)

        Since the days of feudalism, barbarism, socialism, and capitalism are past,
        the current issue is  A-life—‘artificial life’–silicon (valley) based life.

        Most people now discuss the ethics of AI and a-life.

        Luddites are against the a-life.  They say robots will replace us.

        Moderates or reformists are ok with some a-life via MMT (modern monetary theory) and using ‘energy’ as a metric for GDP– ‘eg ‘biophyisical perspectives   on economics–keen, ayres, constanza, fix, daly,  ‘dalies’, ‘qalies’, ‘utils’  ..)

        Moderates prefer a circular  economy.
        They see a peaceful coexistence between a-life robot ATM machines which convert clean solar energy into $  (or capital) while the old fashioned carbon based life just takes withdrawals from the ATMs and recycles it .

        Pacifica (‘peace’)radio (   https://wpfwfm.org ) has a show called ‘building bridges’ (the last one is in their archives–tuesday may 10)  .

        (I used to got some of their  local  ‘community supported radio’ meetings until people started fighting  and calling police on each other).

        Its an interview with harry belafonte (now 94) –famous entertainer–who talks about a catpialism,  and its relationship with the entertainment business (film, music, etc.)
        He’s a member of a union , and is worth 28 million$.  He also says 80% of the union members are unemployed.
        He also says he hit the jackpot but most don’t.

        One local radio station  has the motto ‘information is power’.

         

    • #245630
      Scot Griffin
      • Topics started: 5
      • Total posts: 50

      Some thoughts. 1. “The” market is vague enough to pin down, so it is hard to decide whether it “exists” or not. Conceived as the overall system of pecuniary exchange, I think we can say it exists. The thing is that there is no agreement on the precise nature of this system, and it is this lack of agreement that makes the question of whether “the” market exists or not difficult to answer. 2. “A” market is less vague. Economists usually define any given market by (1) the commodity in question, (2) the geographical scope and (3) the time frame. Of course, here too there are ample disagreements — first on the boundaries of these three items, and second and more broadly on the institutions that underpin them. Ask economists to define the “market for computer chips”, “automobiles” or “health services” and you get more answers that you wish to consider and no clear way to decide which of them is “valid.” 3. I think that in capitalism, the only safe way to use the term “market” is in reference to pecuniary exchange. For example, we can say that “we live in a market society” (i.e. a society dominated by pecuniary exchange), or that there is a “market for cars” (a physical/virtual space where cars are traded for money). But the specific character of this pecuniary exchange is open-ended, both ontologically and epistemologically. I’m sure more words can be spilled on this subject, but I’ll stop here.

      Hayek and his fellow neoliberals have not hesitated in asserting “the Market” and its almost godlike powers. Given that neoliberal ideology dominates current discourse, it makes sense to address “the Market” as they have defined it, and that Market does not exist. It is just a rhetorical device intended to substitute for the communistic fiction embedded in liberal ideology (as recognized by Myrdal).

    • #245654
      Scot Griffin
      • Topics started: 5
      • Total posts: 50

      I have mixed feelings about bridge building. On the one hand, it is politically expedient. If the halls of academia are filled with people who believe theory X, then it is surely wise for someone with a new theory to engage with theory X, and to build bridges between their own work and the work of popular scholars. Political expediency, however, is not always good science. For instance, I am glad that Galileo did not build bridges with the proponents of geocentrism. He knew he was right and they were wrong. And so he burned bridges … and paid a steep price. But science advanced. Of course, there is something to be said for framing your ideas so that people not familiar with them can understand them. In developing his theories of gravity and motion, Newton created a whole new mathematics — calculus. But none of Newton’s contemporaries (except Leibniz) understood calculus. So Newton framed all of his most important arguments without calculus. To the modern observer (who understands calculus) that makes them extremely tedious. But it was a wise choice, given the state of science. In the social science, of course, nothing is ever as clear cut. But perhaps this is where I differ from many social scientists … and perhaps why I have been drawn to the work of Nitzan and Bichler. If I think the evidence supports my ideas, I’m happy to burn bridges … in fact I think it is the principled thing to do. None of this is to say that Polanyi had no insight. I think he was a fantastic economic historian, as was Marx. I’ve written many harsh words about Marx’s ideas, but when I first read Capital, I was blown away by his account of the enclosures. I as similarly enthralled by Polanyi’s account of the emergence of capitalism. And also Wallerstein’s account.

      Personally, I believe CasP stands on its own, and that Nitzan and Bichler spend too much time “debunking” neoclassical and Marxist economics when doing so is unnecessary. Spending any time discussing false/failed economic theories lends them too much power, especially when the legitimacy of CasP does not depend upon debunking those prior theories.

      There’s a phenomenon in cognitive science called the “anchoring and adjustment heuristic” where a person’s initial assumption limits (anchors) how far he can deviate (adjust) from that assumption. Marx’s theory of capitalism ultimately failed because it was anchored by classical economic theory, which he “adjusted” significantly, and neoclassical theory ultimately failed because it sought to address critics of classical political economy, including Marx, by proposing the util as an alterantive to the SNALT.

      Thus, to me, building bridges is not about engaging with theory X but engaging with important proponents and critics of theory X who arguably recognized the outlines of CasP but could not articulate it due to anchoring and adjustment. The words of Hayek, Friedman, Galbraith, Keynes, Lippmann, Marx, Mises, Myrdal, Schumpeter, Simons, Verblen etc., can all be used to show their understanding of certain aspects of CasP, if not its entirety.

      Similarly, I think CasP  can use the dichotomies of “economics v. politics” and “real v. nominal” to build bridges, even though those dualities are false as presented by and understood by Marxists and neoclassicals. There is nothing that prevents CasP from repurposing these false dichotomies to make them true in terms of power.  For example, the only way there can be a separation of economics and politics is if the state creates and enforces it, thus ceding a major domain of historical state power to finance (capitalists). While such state action nullifies the reality of the separation philosophically , it also creates capital’s power and subjugates the state to it.  “Real v. nominal” can likewise be made true if rephrased and reframed in terms of power instead of the philosophical terms understood by Marxists and neoclassicals.  The nominal economy is not a mirror of the real economy, it is the engine, the power source, that determines the real economy.

       

      • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by Scot Griffin.
    • #245667
      D. T. Cochrane
      • Topics started: 2
      • Total posts: 14

      1. ‘Bridges’ do not seem like the most fruitful methodological metaphor for understanding potential relationships between analytical/theoretical frameworks.

      I came to CasP seeking to understand the corporation as an obviously powerful institution. Through my undergrad and master’s degrees, I’d majored in economics, and devoted a lot of time to social justice activism. Through the latter, I learned a lot about corporate power, and picked up a few, scattered analytical skills. Through my degrees, corporate power was almost entirely absent, although I gained a few other skills. CasP was more empirically grounded than the other economic theories I had learned, and more systematic than the activist-motivated research. However, it is not a fully self-contained theory, at least for my needs. In other words, it is not an island. It offered a) important tools for quantifying corporate power, b) a theoretical explanation for understanding differential financial values as an expression of relative power; and c) a solid argument for understanding that power as ‘confidence in obedience’ of society, which includes, but exceeds, production. One criticism of CasP by Bob Jessop was that it is unclear if power is the explanans or the explanandum. Basically, is power the explanation or is power what needs to be explained? I have come down firmly with the latter: we need to explain power. CasP offers tools for identifying the shifting distribution of capitalist power as understood by the capitalists. But what are the contents of that power? What are the specific institutions, laws, cultural habits, etc. that affect the rise and fall of a corporations relative power? How do they increase confidence and/or obedience?

      For these latter questions, I turned to actor-network theory. It is a commitment to deeply empirical research, and the treatment of everything as potentially affective. To me, this resonated with CasP, which is similarly empirical, and it also forecloses reflexively invoking ‘class’ or ‘production’ or some other standard bearer category of political economy. For my dissertation, CasP analysis showed that the De Beers diamond cartel had undergone a long decline in its social power that it reversed into a protracted period of increased power with an inflection point in 1940. Informed by ANT, I treated the Oppenheimer family, U.S. marriage habits, diamonds, and different governments, as affective components of a global diamond assemblage that De Beers controlled. The company had to managed these entities, and the relationships among them, in order to increase its power.

      My concerns are largely practical. I want to understand corporate power in order to confront it, challenge it, diminish it, and eliminate it. So, I will pick up whatever concepts are useful to help. That’s why I think ‘tools’ and ‘toolkits’ are better metaphors for understanding the potential relationships between CasP and other theories.

      2. For both strategic and intellectual reasons, it seems best to claim aspects of work by other thinkers that resonates with CasP, even when other aspects clash.

      We don’t need to get into “what Marx/Polanyi/Robinson/etc. actually meant” debates/dead-ends. Nor do we need to claim other thinkers were doing proto-CasP. We can identify parts of their thought that resonate or connect with features of CasP. Strategically, this makes CasP richer and gives it tendrils into other arenas of political economic debate. Intellectually, it provides fodder for generating new insights. It seems more fruitful to identify ways these thinkers, and their analysis, do connect rather than ways they do not.

      3. At the very least, Polanyi and Braudel are rich empirical sources.

      Braudel’s work is an especially rich empirical source. There is certainly a CasP reading that could be done of Capitalism and Civilization. They are very descriptive of the temporal and spatial expansion of capitalist practices. It is more explicitly materialist than CasP, but it is not slavishly devoted to a certain form of production as the sine qua non of capitalism. It is rich with descriptions of the emergence and development of financial instruments that would become capital. While he used the term ‘anti-market’ to describe capitalism, that comes out of his bottom-up analysis. He saw markets expand and develop from local to regional to national to transnational. From that emerged financial trade instruments as practical mechanisms of exchange that then came to dominate the markets. He is not focused on the intra-capitalist struggle in the same way a CasP analysis would be, but he is offering rich details for how capitalists, pursuing their own accumulatory ends, were limiting and transforming markets.

      4. While there is no ‘economy’ out there, there is ‘The Economy’ within popular, political, academic, and bureaucratic discourse.

      That object does not represent or express some objectively given thing. Rather, it is incredibly affective. It changes the way governments and corporations behave. It is a powerful tool of the ‘state of capital,’ in part because it naturalizes certain types of relationships, particularly hierarchy and competition. It requires some nuance to talk about ‘economic’ matters in ways that don’t naturalize the economy. The work of Timothy Mitchell, and others, on the history of ‘the economy’ as an intellectual, theoretical, and empirical object is useful for trying to disentangle how the notion of an economy was invented and then mobilized intellectually, ideologically, and most importantly, within policy.

      • #245669
        Scot Griffin
        • Topics started: 5
        • Total posts: 50

        When it comes to understanding the development of the corporate form, I recommend both volumes of Morton J. Horwitz’ The Transformation of American Law, which tracks how American law was changed 1780-1960 to support finance, commerce and (ultimately) capitalism. You can find a link to an especially relevant chapter from Horwitz’ second volume, which was published as a law review article, here.

        The chapter/article relates to the Supreme Court ruling in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific, a case that has been discussed in several mainstream books including David Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World, Adam Winkler’s We the Corporations and Thom Harmann’s Unequal Protection. Winkler is a UCLA law professor, and his treatment is specifically focused on corporate personhood and its development since Santa Clara.  The upshot of Santa Clara is that the Supreme Court refused to reach a decision on the issue of corporate personhood, but the clerk of the Supreme Court reported in the syllabus that the Supreme Court had found corporate personhood under the 14th amendment to the US constitution. Although the syllabus is not precedential, it has nevertheless been successfully cited and forms the basis of major decisions like Citizens United.

        It may seem odd to recommend a legal text as a good source of history, but law school for me was one big, fascinating history lesson.  Horwitz’ history was especially eye-opening because it layered in a lot the history of competing legal theories (natural law, positivism, realism, etc.), which was new to me.

        • #245676
          D. T. Cochrane
          • Topics started: 2
          • Total posts: 14

          It does not seem strange to cite legal scholarship at all!

          Corporations are ultimately legal entities. Law is likely the most effective means of confronting and reducing corporate power.

          Thanks for the reference. I’ll add Gangs of America as a book about the history of the corporation that cites the ruling.

          I just recently confirmed that corporations are also considered legal persons in Canada. I’m not sure how the concept came across the border. I believe US case law does get cited in Canadian courts, but I’m not certain about the rules pertaining to that. Nonetheless, corporations also enjoy rights as persons here as well.

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