Political Economy or Political Economics?
So gut wie nichts hat alles gut gemacht (Adorno)
Nearly nothing made everything good (Adorno)
Davis, on page 53 of the Planet of Slums, contends:
The very market forces, in other words, that the World Bank currently hails as the solution to the Third World urban housing crisis are the classical instigators of that same crisis. But the market rarely acts alone. In the next chapter, we’ll consider the class struggle over urban space in cities of the South, and the role of state violence in the commodification of land.
Obviously left and right meet, critical economics forgets that it has to be political economy or it will not be anything. Let us briefly look at the trinity that is established, not really concerned with Davis’ (highly informative) work, nut with a very common shortcoming of “the left”:
Is the market a non-political issue? Isn’t it more about the artificial, entirely abstract and abstruse and absurd suggestion that the market is a purely technical relationship, independent of the underlying socio-political template? Such vied would actually not least contradict Polanyi’s analysis: Though he speaks indeed of the separation, the emergence of a market economy that abstracts from society, he also highlights the fact that establishing such distinction and separation is in actual fact a highly political issue. And indeed, he emphasises the genuine unity of the political and the economic for instance in the following paragraph while looking at The Great Transformation:
Nineteenth century civilization rested on four institutions. The first was the balance-of-power system which for a century prevented the occurrence of any long and devastating war between the Great Powers. The second was the international gold standard which symbolized a unique organization of world economy. The third was the self-regulating market which produced an unheard-of material welfare. The fourth was the liberal state. Classified in one way, two of these institutions were economic, two political. Classified in another way, two of them were national, two international. Between them they deter- mined the characteristic outlines of the history of our civilization.
Continuing by saying
But the fount and matrix of the system was the self-regulating market. It was this innovation which gave rise to a specific civilization. The gold standard was merely an attempt to extend the domestic market system to the international field; the balance-of-power system was a superstructure erected upon and, partly, worked through the gold standard; the liberal state was itself a creation of the self-regulating market. The key to the institutional system of the nineteenth century lay in the laws governing market economy.
As such it is also, of course, about class(-struggles). The danger is, indeed, to look at some greedy individuals, behaving irresponsibly and without moral considerations, thus fading out the fact that the socio-political template, mentioned before, is very much, as it always had been the case and as it will be the cases as long as classes exist, is genuinely reflecting the essential fact that (using the wording from the Communist Manifest)
[t]he history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Thus, we arrive finally at the most tricky matter, namely looking at
the role of state violence in the commodification of land.
Again and again we find in political science the attribution of the “rule of law” to the modern state. Other terms frequently used are constitutional state, free government under the law, constitutional democracy are other terms frequently used in this context. We can look at this in the light of Max Weber’s understanding of the state as a compulsory political organisation being the unique body holding the legitimate use of force within a certain territory. This opens the entire problematique of the state as institiutionalised class rule: it is the presence of the permanent presence of potential “lawful tort”.
This may also give another dimension to the words of Adorno, namely that – as Adorno wrote in his Reflections from a Damaged Life –
[t]here is no right life in the wrong one.