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A hypothesis on economics as politics

PostPosted: Sun Nov 07, 2010 11:10 am
by joefrancis
I started to wonder why it was that trade, production and finance should be amalgamated together under the designation 'the economy', and why this should be treated as something distinct from government and politics. What is the common essence that makes these spheres of social life all part of the same thing? Why do we consider them part of 'the economic' and not 'the political'?

Having decided that there was no sound logical reason for this to be the case, I have come to the tentative conclusion that it is simply a habit of thought that has, moreover, distinctly political origins. The eighteenth-century French physiocrats were arguably the first modern economists. They began to imagine the economy as a distinct realm separate from government. Why did they do this? My hypothesis, and at the moment it is little more than a hypothesis, is that they imagined the economy as a rhetorical device in the struggle against the absolutism of the various Louis in France. The imagination of the economy as a separate realm with its own natural laws facilitated the argument that the Louis of the world should not interfere with that realm. In this sense, the imagination of the economy was emancipatory, in that it provided the rhetorical basis for the restriction of the power of the monarch, and the liberation of various aspects of social life from his control. However, like many (if not most) revolutionary ideas, the emancipatory ideal of the economy was perverted. The English, observing the excesses and horrors produced by the French Revolution, realised that they too could use the economy, only this time as a counter-revolutionary rhetorical device. The idea of a separate sphere in which government should not interfere could be used to restrict not only absolutist government but also democratic government. This is why during the French Revolution philosopher-politicians such as Edmund Burke began to proclaim themselves economists. As the nineteenth century progressed, the idea of the economy became a means for the state to protect itself from the process of democratisation. As the aristocrats who had historically controlled the government realised that they were gradually losing control of it, they relocated to the new imaginary realm of the economy, where they began to construct vast new hierarchical organisations to administer society. Thus, by the time universal suffrage was achieved, it was a hollow victory because the government had lost many of its previous powers. Moreover, the ruling class' new hierarchical organisations were now equipped with a new class of professionals who, in highly complex ways, conveyed a very simple message: Government, even if it is democratic, must not interfere with the economy, including the new hierarchical organisations. This ideology has been so effective because economists do not recognise that their ideas, at their core, are part of a distinctly anti-democratic form of politics. Economists believe, by and large, that the economy exists and has natural laws, and their task is merely to reveal those laws. They do not realise that the way in which trade, production and finance are organised is simply the contingent result of history, with all the struggles, conflicts and deceits that history entails. Economists are such effective politicians, therefore, because they do not recognise themselves as politicians.

I'm posting this here because the history of ideas isn't exactly my field, and I'm wondering if I'm bursting through an open door. Has this already been written about a long time ago?

Re: A hypothesis on economics as politics

PostPosted: Sun Nov 07, 2010 11:17 am
by joefrancis
p.s. I know that Foucault wrote about the construction of the economy in his work on governmentality and this hypothesis draws on that. However, as far as I'm aware, he didn't link it to the process of democratisation; nor did he consider the new power institutions that were constructed within the confines of the protection provided by economists and their imagination of the economy.

Re: A hypothesis on economics as politics

PostPosted: Sun Nov 07, 2010 12:06 pm
by dtcochrane