Not Just the Short Term

Ah, from Financial Times: “Volcker rule unlikely to move forward in Senate, lawmakers say.” *Sigh*

A blog post for me. 2010 may be an ugly year, so to keep my spirits up, I’m going to post two blockquotes to remind myself (and you, if you are in a similar situation) that there’s a bigger battle here, and to remember to think in the medium and long term.

First is from Chris Hayes, comparing Obama to Nixon last year:

In his first 100 days, Obama has been compared to Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Reagan. I wonder, though, if we won’t look back and see him as a figure similar to Nixon. I don’t mean we’ll see him as a tragic, corrupt man driven by his pathological attachment to sundry resentments but as a president whose visionary understanding of a new political dynamic didn’t translate into policy changes on a sufficient scale. The ship of state was subject to many of the same inertial forces during Nixon’s time as well, and despite Nixon’s genius in harnessing the power of the culture wars, when it came to domestic policy, he more or less maintained, even expanded, the liberal state.

Conservatives had to wait for Reagan to start the revolution. We are, I believe, at the beginning of a long era of progressive ascendance. It may be that this is the last administration conceptually handcuffed by the residual dogmas of late twentieth-century conservatism.

That really feels more accurate a year in than it did 3 months into the Obama term.

Second, I want to point out this ‘Foucault Across the Disciplines’ conference with complete mp3s of the lectures given. A lot of heavy hitters there, including Martin Jay and Ian Hacking. I want to write down this quote for myself from James Ferguson’s lecture, “Toward a Left Art of Government: From ‘Foucauldian Critique’ to Foucauldian Politics” (~22m in):

For the sort of new progressive initiatives I have in mind seem to involve not just opposing the neoliberal project…but appropriating key mechanisms of neoliberal government for different ends…Let me emphasize that to say that certain political initiatives and programs borrow from the neoliberal bag of tricks doesn’t mean that these political projects are in league with the ideological project of neoliberalism, in say David Harvey’s sense. Only that they appropriate certain characteristic neoliberal moves, and I think of these discursive and programmatic moves as analogous to the moves one might make in a game. These moves are recognizable enough to look neoliberal, but they can I suggest be used for quite different purposes than that term normally applies.

In this connection one might think of statistical techniques used for calculating the probabilities of workplace injuries. These statistical techniques were originally developed in the 19th century by large employers to control costs. But they eventually became the technical basis for social insurance, and ultimately for the welfare state, which brought unprecedented gains to the working class across much of the world. Techniques that is to say can migrate across strategic camps, and devices of government that were invented to serve one purpose have often enough ended up through history’s irony been harnessed to another. Might we see similar re-appropriation of market techniques of government, which were, like workplace statistics, undoubtably conservative in their original uses, for different, more progressives, sorts of ends? Maybe not. I’m genuinely open-minded about this, but I think it’s worth considering.

I love that point about statistics. Obviously, given my training and tools I’ve equipped myself with, I’m hoping there’s something to this, the ability to co-opt dominant methods and discourses towards new and unexpected ends. Especially as we think through the financialization of the economy that has occurred over the past 30 years, the capture of government and the real economy towards financial market ends and the current financial crisis. Will this be productive? Maybe, maybe not.

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7 Responses to Not Just the Short Term

  1. zunguzungu says:

    I’ve heard versions of that Ferguson talk in person — being in the bay area hath its benefits — and it’s worth noting that he isn’t just talking about theoretical ideas. He’s hip deep on real practical versions of that problem, in the case of South Africa in particular, where all sorts of interesting extensions of neoliberal doctrine are being (maybe) turned towawrds progressive ends. And if he can find reason for measured optimism in South African economics, that says a lot.

    Thanks for that first quote by the way; that’ll give me strength to read the newspaper for at least another day or so.

  2. Sundog says:

    Cheers for the Foucault linkage.

    You write “…I’m hoping there’s something to this, the ability to co-opt dominant methods and discourses towards new and unexpected ends.”

    I always get a kick out of this bit that some guy wrote in 1848:

    The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

    The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere. The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

    The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.

  3. Mike says:

    zunguzungu, I’ve heard his books are also really fantastic, I need to read more of his. I recommend for everyone to listen to the whole lecture – he talks at length about food distribution solutions in Africa, and the practical way in which this change can, maybe, happen. It’s really interesting, moving even.

  4. zunguzungu says:

    His books are magnificent, each better than the others. The Anti-Politics machine is the best work of “critical development studies” and Expectations of Modernity is this amazing approach to the anthropology of third world rust belts, deeply deeply smart. Global Shadows is more specific to AFrican studies, but also brilliant; it’s a collection of essays, so it isn’t quite as focused.

    By the way, have you read Timothy Mitchell’s Rule of Experts? I’m not sure why I think of it as being in the same kinf of vein — it isn’t, really — but somehow it jumps to mind as one of those books that belongs on the same bookshelf.

  5. zunguzungu says:

    This, for example, goes nicely with the Ferguson piece, though it’s slow going for about the first 23 minutes:
    http://web.international.ucla.edu/cnes/podcasts/article.asp?parentid=107626

  6. Pingback: Progressivism, Liberaltarianism, Roll-Out Neoliberalism. « Rortybomb

  7. Pingback: “Providing necessary social goods, especially education, as a right rather than through debt” and some theory on debt as governance. | Rortybomb

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