21 December 2013

Conventional Economics

Pieces of Samir Amin, 2009, Conventional Economics

Conventional Economics:

An Ideological Instrument That Is Central to Capitalist Reproduction

The discourse of conventional economics refers to the current system as the "market economy."  It is inadequate, even deceptive: as we have already pointed out, it could equally well describe England in the 19th century, China of the Sung and Ming dynasties, and the towns of the Italian Renaissance.

The theory of the "market economy" has always been the backbone of "vulgar economics."  This theory immediately and wholly eliminates the essential reality: social relations of production (particularly, ownership as the immediate expression of these relations, promoted to a sacred principle).  It is replaced by the hypothesis of a society constituted by "individuals" (who, in the final analysis, become active agents in the reproduction of the system and its evolution).  These "individuals" (homo œconomicus) are ahistorical, identical with those who, since the origins of humanity (Robinson Crusoe), have possessed the same, unchanging qualities (egoism and the capacity to calculate and make choices that benefit themselves).  The construct built on these foundations -- the "market economy" -- therefore does not correspond to a stylized formulation of the world of historical and real capitalism.  It constructs an imaginary system into which it integrates almost nothing of the essentials of the capitalist reality.

Marx's Capital unmasks the ideological nature (in the functional sense of the word) of this construct of vulgar economics since Frédéric Bastiat and Jean-Baptiste Say, whose function has been simply to legitimize the existing social order, likening it to a "natural and rational order."  The later theories of value -- utility and the general economic equilibrium, developed in response to Marx in the last third of the nineteenth century, as well as those of their heir, contemporary mathematicized economics, described as classic, neoclassic, liberal, neoliberal (the name does not really matter) -- do not diverge from the framework defined by the basic principles of vulgar economics.

The discourse of vulgar economics helps to meet the requirements of the production and reproduction of actually existing capitalism.  It promotes, above everything else, a eulogy of "competition," considered as the essential condition of "progress."  It denies this attribute to solidarity (in spite of examples from history), which is confined to a straitjacket of compassion and charity.  It can be competition between "producers" (i.e. capitalists, without really taking the oligopolistic form of contemporary capitalist production into consideration) or between "workers" (which assumes that the unemployed, or the "poor," are responsible for their situation).  The exclusivity of "competition" is reinforced by the new language ("social partners," instead of classes in conflict) as well as by practices -- of, among others, the European Union Civil Service Tribunal, which is a fierce partisan of the dismantling of trade unions, an obstacle to competition between workers.

The adoption of the exclusive principle of competition also invites society to support the aim of building a "consensus" that excludes the imagination of "another society" based on solidarity.  This ideology of the consensus society, which is well on the way to being adopted in Europe, destroys the transformative impact of the democratic message.  It conveys the libertarian right-wing message that considers the State -- of whatever stripe -- as "the enemy of freedom" (which should be interpreted as the enemy of the freedom of enterprise of capital) and divorces the practice of castrated democracy from social progress.


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