Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reproducing Civil Society

"Civil Society - an association of members as self-subsistent individuals in a universality which, because of their self-subsistence, is only abstract. Their association is brought about by their needs, by the legal system - the means to security of person and property - and by an external organization for attaining their particular and common interests." -- G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Right
" the case of the most advanced States, ...civil society has become a very complex structure and one which is resistant to the catastrophic incursions of the immediate economic element (crises, depressions, etc.). The superstructures of civil society are like the trench systems of modern warfare. ... In Russia the State was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous; in the West, there was a proper relation between State and civil society, and when the State trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The State was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks: more or less numerous from one State to the next, it goes without saying - but this precisely necessitated an accurate reconnaissance of each individual country." -- Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

There exist at least two approaches to economics:

  • One focused on the allocation of given scarce resources among alternative ends.
  • One focused on the conditions for the reproduction of society.

The first is the approach of the so-called neoclassical theory, and the second is the approach of classical political economy.

I like to write about price theory, a field in which one can formulate certain definite quantitative relationships. But the investigation of conditions that facilitate the reproduction of society can extend well outside of price theory and even of economics, as the above Gramsci quote suggests. I suggest the following are examples of components of civil society, whatever your definition: churches, labor unions, charities, civic groups, professional societies, and athletic clubs.

I am not at all sure that anybody has drawn attention in the literature to this commonality between the works of Gramsci and Sraffa: both analyzed the conditions for the reproduction of society, one concentrating on political theory and the other on price theory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Political economy is the only analysis method which is any good in the *long term*.

The epidemic of short-termism among the elite has led to thinking in the "neoclassical" style, where the question becomes "How do I get more of those scarce resources for myself?".

The political economy question posed by the elite, in contrast, is "How do I maintain the comfortable position of myself and my descendants for the next ten generations?"

The answers are DIFFERENT. Most notably, allowing global warming screws the elite over in the long run (not the short run); giving the masses food and jobs keeps them quiet and happy in the long run (but means less cash for the capitalists in the short run); etc.