Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gramsci: Laissez Faire As State Regulation

I am of the opinion that talk of more or less government intervention in markets is incoherent in, for example, the United States today. It is not as if some configuration of property rights, contract law independent of the state, corporations with limited liability, and markets of various types are all natural constructs, existing prior to all human interventions. I have gone on about this before. I might also note Philip Mirowski's view that sophisticated neoliberals recognize that a capitalist market order must be constructed; it does not come about naturally. I do not know that he would now think that all those in, for example, think tanks inhabiting the outer layers of the russian doll structures that neoliberals have build for propagandizing would recognize the role of government in constructing a market order.

Anyways, I have recently stumbled on Antonio Gramsci making a closely related point:

"The ideas of the Free Trade movement are based on a theoretical error whose practical origin is not hard to identify; they are based on a distinction between political society and civil society, which is made into and presented as an organic one, whereas in fact it is merely methodological. Thus it is asserted that economic activity belongs to civil society, and that the State must not intervene to regulate it. But since in actual reality civil society and State are one and the same, it must be made clear that laissez-faire too is a form of state 'regulation', introduced and maintained by legislative and coercive means. It is a deliberate policy, conscious of its own ends, and not the spontaneous, automatic expression of economic facts. Consequently, laissez-faire liberalism is a political programme, designed to change - in so far as it is victorious - a State's leading personnel, and to change the economic programme of the State itself - in other words the distribution of the national income." -- Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, "The Modern Prince", Some Theoretical and Practical Aspects of 'Economism'

Given the current conjuncture in, say, the United States, that bit about income distribution is of contemporary relevance. I think a study comparing and contrasting the ideas of Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci on how ideas become dominant in society would be interesting to read.

1 comment:

Emil Bakkum said...

Of course markets do not come naturally. It is fascinating to ponder over the historical reasons why effective markets emerged in Europe and North-America, but not in Asia or South-America. Concerning property, is seems reasonable to assume that a private owner of property will be more devoted to its profitability than some collective.