Sunday, March 2, 2014
A Response to McCloskey
Suffice to say, I think McCloskey's presentation came at an opportune time. As we transition away from Marx and Capital, we are able to examine some of the ways Marx functions in common rhetorical tropes. I think before beginning it is worth noting that on several occasions the Dr. McColoskey's work is highly regarded in the field of economics. Certainly, her CV would make any scholar blush with envy. It is for this reason, that I am surprised. Surprised that while she seems to know better, her additions to contemporary discourse follow in large part neo-liberal discourse about the left. Below I list some of the, unconscious I think, tropes and discourses that McCloskey perhaps in a moment of dis-reflection employs towards her persuasive end.
Economic Growth Does Not Occur on the Backs of Slaves
This assertion was used to illustrate how it was innovation (or empirically tested betterment) that resulted in jump in material wealth. Her emphasis of the veracity of the statement subtly implied that Marx and subsequent Marxists denied either the material productivity of capitalism or the nature of individual laborers in the system. On the contrary, Marx both acknowledges the productive potential of capitalism as well as the necessity for laborers to freely enter into contracts with their employers. An issue that Marco (perhaps in anticipation of McCloskey) has discussed at length. In at least referring to Marx, the argument constructs a false foe.
Of course, we know that Marx too was wary of heralding the positive effects of capitalism. While laborers may enter into their contracts freely, always the employer capitalist is at advantage. McCloskey's equation of greater material resources (from an anachronistically calculated three dollars to thirty dollars) does not explain the changing relations of society. Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and numerous scholars have commented on the negative role of a capital/empirically tested better way of living.
Its Not Just Capital Accumulation that Generates Wealth
This is a point that I found very interesting about McCloskey's overall argument. Again, an assertion left perhaps partially unexplained by its creator that yields only a false foe. Neither Marx nor any of us(sometimes) correct interpreters of him would maintain simple capital accumulation might account for economic expansion and growth. That power lies with the means of production. For the common man, such means might be his own laboring tools. On an industrial level however, the true generator of larger amounts of labor surplus value tend to be industrial. The machines in of themselves are valued not for their exchange potential, but for the ability to decrease the amount of labor needed for a product and therefore increase the amount of surplus value.
At multiple points, McCloskey vulgarly asserts that even if the wealth were redistributed it would serve to minimally enrich individuals only once. Such an assertion I think none would argue with. Thus the emphasis on the distribution of the means of production. A discussion of the redistribution of money and a redistribution of the means of production are two very different ideas in of themselves.
Given this point, I found it odd the McCloskey chose to focus on foreign aid as an example that capital accumulation alone cannot account for economic growth. As evidence, she points to the billions of dollar poured in to African countries. Despite the donated capital, these countries had failed to grow, she said. Yet, if we take a closer look at the form of much of this aid, we see that most of it was sometimes conditional. As anecdotal example, lets look to Afghanistan. After allied invasion, a large debate surrounding the country's poppy fields commenced. Moves to incorporate Afghanistan's poppies into the legal medical-opiate market were thwarted. Similarly, calls to encourage flower harvesting and growth were vetoed. Despite the obvious advantages to the Afghans, these plans were abandoned because various allied forces feared for their national industries. Interested parties like Australia, France, India, Spain, and Turkey who currently trade legal medical opiates dissuaded the international proposal. This example illustrates two points. First, wealth can be generated in greater quantities by having more powerful states squash competition. Perhaps, economics is not a zero-sum game, but not everyone is playing under those rules. Further, it is an example of how the power to be productive and the means of production may be denied as part of a capitalist/empirically proven betterment. In reference to this weeks readings, Lenin also takes issue with the role of the state in reference to international economic relations.
Anachronisms and the Rhetorical Power of Framing
Finally, it is worth reflecting on McCloskey's rhetorical operation, as one audience member encouraged. First, we should question that anachronistic application of three dollars a day. Even assuming the calculations and methodologogy are sound, which I do so only for the sake of argument, we have to wonder at the decision to equate a human's existence to three dollars. Certainly, the cave man's lament prior to entering his bed was not one of oppression or hardship at his menial three dollars. Implied under this anachronistic calculation is the idea that money equals happiness and better living. An assertion, that due to its implied nature is never fully detailed by McCloskey. Never before have we experienced this level of wealth, but in fairness never before (last two hundred years aside) measured our wealth in dollars alone. The ideological assumption that maintains material wealth affords happiness is silently maintain and enthymemic like quality.
Still we might consider further the false dichotomy often trotted out by neoliberals or those advocates for empirically proven betterment. The idea of socialism versus capitalism exists exclusively as ideas. The reality of both of these methods are more complicated. Today, perhaps only one country may be charged with socialism. Like wise, virtually no countries can brag of an entirely untouched capitalist market. The Euro-American world, the one McCloskey largely relegates herself to, are sites of mixed systems. So I am at a loss, when McCloskey in her brief readings given to our class gives Sweden as an example of capitalist awesomeness. Certainly, her distantly related cousin's BMW is enviable, but that country and most of the Scandinavian neighbors employee policies that according to McCloskey hurt the innovators. Her example is telling for a number of reasons. First, it puts away the false dichotomy in which McCloskey indulges. It also illustrates that while capitalism produces wealth, its redistribution does not spell disaster. Perhaps, we can do more to ease the suffering and encourage more equal living the carrying on our individual self indulgent ways.
I think there is much more to be said about McCloskey's visit and presentation, however these seemed to be the main points most relevant to our previous class discussions.