Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thank you Mr. Negri.


As they used to say in the early years of MTV’s Real World:  “What happens when you stop being polite, and start getting real?”  In law school, my teachers taught me to apply the law to the facts. Don’t get too fancy, just find the established rule of law on your subject, then apply the holding and reasoning of those cases to your fact pattern. I’m getting tired of reading theorists that make no attempt to tie their theories to current factual problems, which amounts to intellectual masturbation, quite honestly. That’s why I applaud Mr. Negri. First, I admire his prose style, which can change from direct (“We need new theories for the new reality”) to elegantly ironic: “Strangely, however, after beginning to walk ahead of Marx in this way, we have the haunting suspicion he was already there.” 

More importantly, I admire his application of Marx’s method of historical materialism to the current economy. Let’s focus on his third phase, antagonism or exploitation. Consider how he deftly, but roundly, explains that Marx’s definition of exploitation (the amount of surplus labor time beyond that needed to produce wage value) is outdated. And notice that his new definition – “private appropriation of the public common” – is both expansive and yet well-tailored to his other writings.

Footnote: My only criticism would be that his example, “profits of financial capital,” is too broad. To me, there’s a difference between an individual buying stock, and a hedge fund trader short-selling the stock, or putting large bets on daily foreign currency values. The former is a financially responsible act, while the latter is pure exploitation.






  1. Legal disclaimer: The above opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the author, who now recognizes, among other things, the frivolity of leading with a "Real World" quote.

  2. After reading Jameson's critique of the Dialectic, I'd like to clarify and modify the nonsense I posted last night. First, I was not dismissing the importance. If anything, I've come to realize the importance of forming a "new" Marxist theory appropriate for the profound shifts, booms, busts, and crises we're seeing in current capitalism. But these theories need to be tested and applied to concrete social or economic issues. Using the formulaic example of constructing a basic legal argument, I'm aware of how slippery terms like "facts" and "holding" and "reasoning are. The notion that lawyers and judges use these terms to "make law," then it illustrates how unstable the American legal system, and by extension our economy, really is. Thus, it shows the absurdity made by people like Tom Friedman that the American model is the perfect "delivery system" for globalization. At the same time, I still maintain we don't need to go through a rigorous Hegelian Dialectical process to come up with a solid working theory of current capitalism. Paul Krugman is a good example. In his book about Depression Economics, he relies primarily on logic and empirical data to show how Globalization is inherently unequal, and prone not only to crisis, but to long-term depressions. His best example is Japan in the 90s, showing how hedge fund traders speculating on currency caused a rescission that spiraled into a depression by world events out of Japan's control. But he gives many other recent examples, like Brazil and Mexico, of how smaller and poorer nations are marginalized by IMF and World Bank policies driven by America, and also by "renegade" hedge fund investors who can bankrupt small countries if they want to. Though I didn't agree with everything Krugman said, his book is a great example of applied economic theory, and I think that "applied theory" instead of just "theory" is something more Marxist thinkers should be doing. Although Jameson is talking more about cultural and literary theory, I appreciate his attempt to combine economics in his "Culture and Financial Capital" which I found very illuminating.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.