Making History

Voltaire: “Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes.”                            “En effet, l’histoire n’est que le tableau des crimes et des malheurs.”                                                                                                  (The Sincere Huron / L’Ingénu,  1767, ch.10)

This is apparently a sound observation, but an incomplete one.
History is also a tableau of fighting crimes and overcoming misfortunes.

Black and White by Akuryo

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Trump as Messiah

by Ivan Light

How can they still back him? During the Trump presidency, this question arose again and again when, despite a relentless succession of failures, lies, outrages, and scandals, his voters loyally backed Trump. The question remains unanswered because, standing outside Trump’s political base, opponents who asked it could not answer it. To explain extreme political loyalty, one must dispassionately examine  political ideas for their consequences, not their truth value. When that is done, Trump emerges as a messiah, not just a politician. A messiah is a savior predicted by prophets of old. Because saviors were predicted, people know that saviors are coming. When change-makers  appear, believers compare them with the template they inherited in order to decide whether this change-maker is the predicted savior. Once recognized, a messiah has a license to exercise charismatic authority in the service of rule-defying innovation. Jesus of Nazareth was that kind of messiah. Predicted by prophets of old, Jesus broke with pharisaic Judaism to create a new religion. With some loss of emotional intensity, messiahs can be secular as well as religious. A secular messiah can emerge from any thought tradition that predicts rule-breaking supermen who rescue the people from disaster. In economic thought, entrepreneurs periodically break rules to renew and reconstruct the market economy. Entrepreneurs are economic messiahs because, predicted in advance, they command prophetic authority to enact rule-defying innovation. When a secular messiah is also a religious messiah, as is Trump, the messiah has dual constituencies and so enjoys expanded authority. Trump’s messianic authority explains the loyalty of Trump’s followers.  

From Luther to Trump
Trump’s messianic authority derived from secular and religious ideas that entered the American consciousness at different moments in history but some of which predate the American Revolution. The ideas that conferred messianic stature upon Trump arrived in four historic waves, each of which modified but did not erase the priors. Of these, the earliest and most important was the Protestant Reformation which introduced religious ideas friendly to capitalism. Martin Luther (1483-1546) developed the idea that ordinary people had a religious duty to labor in their occupation and that idleness was sinful. In John Calvin’s (1509-1564) theology, wealth became a sign of God’s favor and poverty of disfavor. On this view, business owners enjoyed God’s favor in this world and salvation in the next; the poor endured God’s chastisement in this world and damnation in the next. Enjoying God’s respect, wealthy business owners deserved the respect of all decent folk. Reformation Protestantism transitioned to British America in the seventeenth century but was firmly institutionalized only in New England outside of which churches and clergy were few. Into this religious vacuum came three religious revivals of momentous historical importance. The first “great awakening” (1740-1750) spread an emotional and pietistic Protestantism to unchurched colonists in every region, especially the South. Two subsequent awakenings  (1790-1830, 1860-1890) expanded a popular following for an evangelical Protestantism that combined personal piety and Biblical inerrancy with respect for wealth acquired in business and condemnation of the poor for their poverty. In 2018, one quarter of American adults characterized themselves as evangelical Protestants and of these, half resided in the South. Most of them voted for Trump.

From Darwin to Trump
In the late nineteenth century, Darwinian ideas greatly influenced social thought all over the world. In Europe, social Darwinism linked to nationalism, imperialism, and militarism. Hitler was a social Darwinist. In the United States, Darwinism linked to business. As is well understood, Darwin’s theory of natural selection undermined the inerrancy of the Bible, and evangelical Protestants rejected it for this reason. Ironically, social Darwinism lent scientific authority to the old-fashioned Protestant understanding of the class hierarchy as a ladder of personal merit.  The leading American Darwinist was William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) in whose memorable phrase, a “struggle for existence” pitted humanity against indifferent nature. Sumner argued that “heroic” entrepreneurs did and rightly should control the economy because business was a monetized jungle success in which had proved their optimal fitness. “In the struggle for existence,” he wrote, “money is the token of success.[1] Sumner also blamed the poor for their poverty, but his grounds were naturalistic, not religious. In Sumner’s view, nature had declared the poor unfit to survive, a judgment beyond human appeal. No Pollyanna, Sumner conceded that Gilded Age entrepreneurs cheated their way to wealth by “fraud, swindling, and financial crimes,” but he excused their immorality. Why did it matter that some millionaires were “idle or silly or vulgar” as long as they capably managed the economy? [2] The huge fortunes of the business elite represented “the legitimate wages” of economic leadership. Social Darwinism dispersed adulation of wealthy business owners and trickle-down economics to educated, secular conservatives outside the South who were ready to understand the market economy as the natural order rather than a human contrivance. Among those who received the message decades later was Donald J. Trump who explained, “The world is a vicious and brutal place… It’s a cruel world and people are ruthless.” Trump even endorsed social Darwinism by name: “A lot of life is about survival of the fittest and adaptation as Darwin pointed out.”[3]

From Schumpeter to Trump
Sumner’s idealization of “heroic” business tycoons influenced subsequent economic thinkers. In the early twentieth century, the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) introduced the concept of “creative destruction” that put entrepreneurs at the epicenter of the capitalist innovation cycle. Schumpeter proposed that capitalism had periodically to destroy what existed in order to replace it with something newer and better. Doing just that, entrepreneurs predictably strode forth to rejuvenate capitalist progress. Initially, Schumpeter depicted entrepreneurs as biological “supermen” endowed with inherited genius, will, and physical energy well above ordinary levels, an extreme statement that he later modified. After all, the central task of entrepreneurs was only to push forward economic innovation, overcoming opposition, and demolishing existing structures. This philosophy is paraphrased by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as “move fast and break things.” Writing entrepreneurs into economic theory in this way, Schumpeter predicted their periodic recurrence, identified their benign long-term consequences, legitimated their rule-breaking, and inscribed that understanding into economic science, which then diffused it to publics unaffected by evangelical Protestantism or social Darwinism. Doing all that, Schumpeter cast rule-breaking entrepreneurs as secular messiahs.

From Batman to Trump
The public does not read economics, but economics gets into comics. The most famous entrepreneur in American society is Batman, a comic-strip superhero invented in 1939. Batman comics and films combined, amplified, and transmitted entrepreneurship imagery derived from prior historical sources. The fictional Batman also resembles the real Donald Trump to a startling extent.  Like Donald Trump, Bruce Wayne (Batman) is a billionaire entrepreneur who inherited and runs a vast family business. Like Donald Trump, Bruce Wayne built a glamorous reputation as a spend-thrift playboy who conspicuously appears in the company of beautiful women. Ordinary people admire Wayne’s glamorous lifestyle as in reality they admired Trump’s. Like Donald Trump, Bruce Wayne became a celebrity in Gotham City as a result of his conspicuous consumption of luxury.  Like Trump, Wayne boasts a genius-level intelligence, high energy, athleticism, and trained ferocity. With the exception of athleticism, all these are traits Trump claims for himself. Trump did not invent Batman; Batman invented Trump.
In the Sumner/Schumpeter vision, entrepreneurs are economic saviors, but in Gotham City the playboy entrepreneur promoted public safety as well as public prosperity. The playboy entrepreneur secretly risks his life to  protect citizens from criminals whose insane depravity threatens civilization just as, it must be observed, believers credit president Trump with defending against the Q-Anon conspiracy. Because of his genius, athleticism, technology, energy, and ferocity, characteristics derived from Schumpeter and Sumner, Batman defeats criminals against whom police were helpless. True, his methods violate laws, but they work so Gotham residents excuse them. Admiring Wayne’s luxurious lifestyle, Gotham City residents are unaware that Wayne protects them at his own expense, but Batman fans learn that playboy entrepreneurs protect them from depravity. In this way, the movies and comic strips primed Batman fans to understand entrepreneur Donald Trump’s soteriological mission and legitimate his rule-breaking. Predicting the playboy savior, Batman made a messiah out of candidate Trump. Sensing the advantage of identification with Batman, Trump’s political campaigns consciously encouraged the candidate’s identification with the caped crusader.

Trump as Messiah
John Maynard Keynes once wrote that “madmen in authority distill their frenzy” from the writings of long-dead “scribblers.” This is also true of comic strips. Batman condenses, embodies, and disperses messages of Protestantism, Darwinism, and economics that, retaining their separate niches, had already diffused into American popular culture by 1939, seven years before Donald Trump was born.  When candidacies confirm the arrival of messiahs, people hear a savior’s voice. Importantly because of prophetic folklore, wealthy entrepreneurs acquired the basic qualification to secure the Republican Party’s nomination for president. In the twenty-first century, all Republican candidates for president have been wealthy entrepreneurs. During the presidential debates in 2020, three entrepreneurs were also Democratic finalists (Bloomberg, Steyer, Yang) and two  were billionaires. None were janitors even though there are many more janitors than billionaires. Unlike janitors, who carry a cultural freight of meritocratic failure, billionaires stride before the public as super-successful products of the competitive marketplace. Thanks to Batman and those long-dead scribblers, the American public knows in advance that entrepreneurs possess high intelligence, energy, drive, ambition, a killer instinct and benign concern for social wellbeing. Moreover, because predicted by scribblers, the public knows that billionaire entrepreneurs can save them by the exercise of charismatic authority in the service of rule-defying innovation.
Was Trump a sacred or secular messiah? He was both. In 2017, the Pew Research Foundation asked a sample to agree or disagree to this statement: “God chose Trump to become president because God approves of Trump’s policies.” Fifty-three percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed as did 32 percent of Republicans,  but only 18 percent of white Catholics did so. Of course, policies make a difference too, and evangelical Protestants approved of Trump’s policies but so did conservative Catholics who did not endow Trump with divine authority. If we ask how fervently a political base supports a politician, we ask about loyalty. Mere politicians obtain bounded approval that evaporates in the face of malperformance; secular messiahs obtain loyalty that stretches; and religious messiahs obtain fanatical adherence. Understanding Trump as a heaven-sent messiah, Trump’s evangelical supporters backed his rule-breaking innovation as God’s plan in action. Most Republican voters are not evangelical Protestants. Among all Republicans only one-third understood Trump as a religious messiah, but among the remainder, many understood him as a secular messiah foretold by economists of old. Batman fans understood Trump as a benevolent, swamp-draining superhero. It is fair to conclude that Trump’s base consisted mostly of loyalists of whom about half considered him a sacred messiah and others a secular messiah. This was not accidental. As a result of the cultural history of the United States, Trump acquired a political base primed to understand him as a messiah, not just a politician. Trump inherited this base and did not create it. The culture of the United States offered it as a free gift to his candidacy, and he made the most of it.

Endnotes:
[1] Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1944), 58.
[2] William Graham Sumner, Social Darwinism (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall, 1963 [1885]), 150-157.
[3] Donald J. Trump with Meredith McIver, Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education in Business and Life (Philadelphia: Vanguard, 2009), 23.
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* Ivan Light is professor emeritus of sociology at UCLA. This essay builds upon ideas developed more fully in Entrepreneurs and Capitalism Since Luther: Rediscovering the Moral Economy (Lexington, 2020) by Ivan Light and Leo-Paul Dana. Email: light@soc.ucla.edu.

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“…The time was ripe for the fascist solution.”

“When things are obvious or clear, using ‘obvious’ or ‘clear’ is redundant. Use these words sparingly in your writing”, noticed Robert Gallager. I recalled this technical advice while thinking about writing something, let’s call it, substantial in the light of the dark events in the US. But for a long time already all relevant topics have been extensively discussed here from various perspectives… There is nothing new under the sun. Blindness, however, bedazzledness, and subservience still bemuse me. Although I cannot restrain myself from recollecting Zygmunt Bauman’s observation that “this was the unspoken credo which lent credibility to the unclouded trust that post-Enlightenment liberals vested in the human individual’s capacity for immaculate conception.” (2000: 168).
Five years ago I wrote that the major collision of polities and ideologies in the 21st century will be about Authoritarian Neoliberal Regime (or tendencies) versus Democratic Social State (or spirit). I wish I could say with confidence that I know which side carried the day on January 6th, 2021. I know what my mind and soul strive for and are committed to, as well as all members of our community. But in Immanuel Wallerstein’s last words: “I think there is a 50-50 chance that we’ll make it to transformatory change, but only 50-50.”
The post’s title quotes Polanyi in his great The Great Transformation – you’ll find an insightful and striking excerpt from it in the first link aired with some accompanying thoughts two days after Trump’s inauguration. Wasn’t it obvious then?..
The other selected links also present various important reflections on the subject matter:

> Karl Polanyi on the Rise of Fascism and Market Economy

> Free to Choose: Hayek’s Road to Fascism

> Forms of Capital and Moral Legitimation of Capitalism (by Ivan Light)

> How Neoliberalism Prepared the Way for Donald Trump (by Zygmunt Bauman)

> Social Media, Authoritarian Capitalism, and Donald Trump (by Christian Fuchs)

> Folk economics, economic sociology, and Trump’s campaign (regarding Richard Swedberg’s “Folk Economics and its Role in Trump’s Presidential Campaign”)

> Polanyi’s Prescience: Covid-19, Market Utopianism, and the Reality of Society (by Margaret Somers and Fred Block)

> Alexis de Tocqueville on Democracy, Materialism and Political Economy

> Back to the Future: Authoritarian Neoliberal Regime versus Democratic Social State (regarding Ralph Miliband’s classic The State in Capitalist Society)

> C. Wright Mills on Knowledge, Power, and the Moral Duty of the Intellectual

Trump

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B&B: Neoliberal Feminism // Corporate personhood // Kinship, religion and blockchain // Why is strike called ‘strike’? // The history of the planning state // Business’ grasp of universities

This time, especially worth reading and sharing pieces:

> “The history of the planning state and its dismantlement is today more relevant than ever, as we continue to endure the deadliest pandemic in a century… This question is especially relevant in cities, given that the coronavirus not only takes advantage of the most precarious urban residents but does so by exploiting some of the worst planning failures of recent years.” – by Jacob Anbinder 

> Over a century ago, Thorstein Veblen observed the problematics of the control of universities by businessmen and their subversive influence on research and scholarly culture. In the context of the current managerialist approach in academia, Nick Romeo and Ian Tewksbury reread Veblen’s The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men

> “Unemployment isn’t natural. It’s a legal and social choice”. How job security and democracy at work can cure the unemployment pandemic, discusses Ewan McGaughey, an author of A Casebook on Labour Law (2018)

> The Long History of Corporate Personhood: Business has consistently been one of the most powerful forces in political life. So how did this come to be obscured? asks Lawrence B. Glickman, an author of Free Enterprise: An American History (2019) and Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America (2012)

Do you want to attend the most interesting and promising online talks and webinars on topics in economic sociology and political economy from all over the world? So follow the ES/PE’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter pages to have information about these events that are publicized only on our social media several days before they take place.

> Neoliberal Feminism: It does recognise various forms of gender inequality, but the solutions it posits elide the socioeconomic and cultural structures of these phenomena, portraying women as atomised, self-optimising, and entrepreneurial — by Catherine Rottenberg, an author of The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism (2018)

> Starting with hedonism of the bohemian Bloomsbury Group and ending with credit default swap, Jennifer Szalai reviews Zachary Carter’s new excellent and wit personal and intellectual biography of Keynes The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes (2020)

> Why are strikes called ‘strikes? The answer goes back 250 years, to the birth-pangs of the English Working Class — by Dermot Feenan

> Do kinship and religion pave the road to the blockchain and to a future beyond credit-money and debt, without the need for banks or governments to serve as central repositories of trust? — by Natalie Smolenski

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Top 10 Most-read Economic Sociology and Political Economy Posts of 2020

This holiday season looks, and feels, different. As 2020 comes to an end, probably many of us have never greeted the new year with so much hope, despite all concerns and some skepticism. Anyway, I’m sending you and your loved ones my heartfelt wishes for good health, confidence, and peace in the New Year. Let it be better and safer, more solidary, more positive, and more joyful — for all.
I rounded up here the top 10 most-read posts of the year on the Economic Sociology and Political Economy community blog. These interesting posts unsurprisingly reflect to a large extent the complex socio-economic realities during this turbulent and rough year as well as political and intellectual challenges it generated and posed. They also express our gradual understanding of the Covid-19 crisis. You are welcome to (re)read and share them. 
I would like to use this opportunity and genuinely thank everyone for being here and for making this community what it really is! Thank you for keeping reading, thinking, and acting. Thanks for every click, ‘like’, retweet, and comment! Thanks for spreading the word and recommending the ES/PE your colleagues, students and friends. Thanks for posting online, referring and sending me links and articles.

About 5,000 new members joined us this year, and the ES/PE community proudly counts almost 70,000 members, followers, and readers from about 160 countries — researchers, students, practitioners, journalists, policy makers, and activists who constantly generate more than 150,000 monthly page views on our sites and social media (Facebook, TwitterLinkedInInstagramWhatsappTumblr, Telegram, and Reddit). Achieving the main goal of our community — that is to disseminate the insights of socio-political research on the economy — would be impossible without your support, participation and enthusiasm. Once again, this year too, the ES/PE blog was ranked one of the top 10 blogs and websites in sociology in the world. Together we maintain this intellectual and public campfire — and I am grateful to you all!
As we all conclude this gloomy year and look forward to clearer skies in the next one, what can be said with certainty is that economic sociology and political economy perspectives and insights will be essentially needed to keep on mulling over, debunking, realizing and, of course, changing. Happy and Transformative New Year!

The 10 most-read posts of 2020:

> Neoliberalism, Varieties of Capitalism, and Coronavirus (by Oleg Komlik, March 10, 2020)

> Polanyi’s Prescience: Covid-19, Market Utopianism, and the Reality of Society (by Margaret Somers and Fred Block, October 16, 2020)

> Ulrich Beck has died. His powerful concept of ‘Risk Society’ is relevant as never before (by Oleg Komlik,  January 4, 2015)

> The Probable Implications of the Coronavirus Crisis — David Harvey, William Davies, Ivan Krastev Adam Tooze, Judith Butler, Radhika Desai; Bruno Latour, James Galbraith, Mike Davis; Slavoj Zizek, Branko Milanovic, David Grossman; Mariana Mazzucato, Eva Illouz, Alain Badiou; Costas Lapavitsas, Katharina Pistor, David Runciman (March-June, 2020)

> “Herd Immunity” is Epidemiological Neoliberalism (by Isabel Frey, April 24, 2020)

> Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders!

> If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while counting your money

> Political Economy After Neoliberalism: A Manifesto for New Thinking  (by Neil Fligstein and Steven Vogel, October 8, 2020)

> Rest in Power, David Graeber – the Activist-scholar who Lived the Coupling of Theory and Praxis  (by Oleg Komlik, September 4, 2020)

> Albert Einstein on the Power of Ideas and Imagination in Science (by Oleg Komlik,

The 10 least-read posts of 2020 which, in my biased view, deserve more attention: 

> The Politics of Fiscal Policies: Lessons across Time and Space

> Age of Greed and Neoliberal Creed: the Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America

> Religion, “Free trade” and Faithful Globalization: Producing a Sacred Vision of the Economy

> Minilateralism: How Trade, Soft Law and Financial Engineering are Redefining Economic Statecraft

> How did the East India Company become the most powerful business‬ in history? the most powerful business‬ in history?

> Fiscal Embeddedness: Tax Policy as an Institutional Tool of State-building

> Challenging Governance Theory: From Networks to Hegemony 

> Law and Labor in the American Political Economy

> The Value of Nothing and Market Society

> Economist the Creator 😉 

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‘American Bonds’ by Sarah Quinn — The Best Book in Economic Sociology and Political Economy for 2020

The ES/PE global academic community is pleased to announce the granting of the Best Book in Economic Sociology and Political Economy Award for 2020 to Sarah Quinn‘s superb, enlightening, thoroughly researched and engagingly written American Bonds: How Credit Markets Shaped a Nation. Congratulations!!
The year of 2020 marks an exceptional achievement for Professor Quinn (University of Washington). Her outstanding, insightful, and interdisciplinary  treatise won three additional major prizes: the Zelizer Book Award given by the American Sociological Association’s Economic Sociology section, the Alice Amsden Book Award presented by the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, and Honorable Mention for the Theory Prize by the American Sociological Association’s Theory section. 
Professor Quinn once noted that “part of [her] desire to write the book was always to try to be able to use the tools of sociology to demystify finance.” While reading this excellent scholarly work, one can easily see that this mission was brilliantly accomplished.
Drawing from a mix of original archival research and secondary sources, American Bonds examines the evolution of securitization and federal credit programs in the US from the early post-Revolutionary years to the 1960s, concurrently looking  at the macro and micro levels. The book shows in compelling detail that since the Westward expansion, the US government has used financial markets to manage America’s complex social divides, and  lawmakers and bureaucrats have turned to land sales, home ownership, and credit to provide economic opportunity without the appearance of market intervention or direct redistribution of wealth. Over time, government officials embraced credit as a political tool that allowed them to navigate an increasingly complex and fractured political system, affirming the government’s role as a consequential and creative market participant. Neither intermittent nor marginal, credit programs spurred the growth of powerful industries, have been used for foreign policy and and military efforts, and were promoters of venture capital investment and mortgage securitization. Quinn’s American Bonds astutely demonstrates the intricate ways in which credit has been a powerful tool of the American statecraft and how the state has been intrinsically involved in marketcraft.
At the end of this must-read book (published by Princeton University Press in 2019) Quinn leaves us with important reflections derived from her historic research, which are essentially relevant to our immediate present and upcoming future: 

“With each crisis, Americans face anew the question of how to organize finance. With each crisis, choices are guided by long-esteblished institutions. And with each crisis, there nevertheless exists the potential for something new to emerge. Whatever lies ahead, the organization of credit – and the social bonds that it entails – will be decided on two levels: the specific exchanges we allow and how we delimit the role of finance in the political economy. A cleared-eyed look at both means that in considering any credit policy we must ask: Should this issue be resolved through finance? And if it is resolved through finance, what divisions of profit and risks, and what divisions of opportunities and obligations, should be built into these structures?” (Quinn 2019: 212)

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The past Alice Amsden Book Award recipients:

2019: Ching Kwan Lee, The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa. University of Chicago Press, 2018

The past Zelizer Best Book Award recipients:

2019: Monica Prasad, Starving the Beast: Ronald Reagan and the Tax Cut Revolution. Russell Sage, 2018

2018: Yuen Yuen Ang, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. Cornell University Press, 2016

2017: Marc Steinberg, England’s Great Transformation: Law, Labor, and the Industrial Revolution. University of Chicago Press, 2016

2016Gabriel Abend, The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics. Princeton University Press, 2014

2016: Debbie Becher, Private Property and Public Power for Eminent Domain in Philadelphia. Oxford University Press, 2014

2015: Martin Reuf, Between Slavery and Capitalism: The Legacy of Emancipation in the American South. Princeton University Press, 2014

2014: Ofer Sharone, Flawed System, Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences. University of Chicago Press, 2013

2013: Lyn Spillman, Solidarity in Strategy: Making Business Meaningful in American Trade Associations. University of Chicago Press, 2012

2013: Monica Prasad, The Land of Too Much: American Abundance and the Paradox of Poverty. Harvard University Press, 2012

2012: Greta R. Krippner, Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance. Harvard University Press, 2012

2010: Terence G. Halliday and Bruce G. Carruthers, Bankrupt: Global Lawmaking and Systemic Financial Crisis. Stanford University Press, 2009

2008: Donald MacKenzie, An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets. MIT Press, 2006

2006: Olav Velthuis, Talking Prizes: Symbolic Meaning of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art. Princeton University Press, 2005

2006: James R. Lincoln and Michael L. Gerlach, Japan’s Network Economy: Structure, Presistence and Change. Cambridge University Press, 2004

2004: Harrison White, Markets from Networks Networks: Socioeconomic Models of Production. Princeton University Press, 2002

2004: Sarah Babb, Managing Mexico: Economists from Nationalism to Neoliberalism. Princeton University Press, 2001

2003: Neil Fligstein, The Architecture of Markets: An Economic Sociology of Twenty-First-Century Capitalist Societies. Princeton University Press, 2002

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Corporate Bodies Have No Soul

William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830) was an English essayist, writer, and social commentator. He is considered one of the greatest masters of the English language, but despite his very high standing among historians of literature and art, his work is currently little read. However, the following poignant sentences of this brilliant polemicist and critic of pomp and power are resonant now as they were 200 years ago. 

Corporate bodies have no soul. Corporate bodies are more corrupt and profligate than individuals, because they have more power to do mischief, and are less amenable to disgrace or punishment. They feel neither shame, remorse, gratitude, nor goodwill. [In corporate bodies] the principle of private or natural conscience is extinguished in each individual (we have no moral sense in the breasts of others), and nothing is considered but how the united efforts of the whole (released from idle scruples) may be best directed to the obtaining of political advantages and privileges to be shared as common spoil. […]
The refinements of private judgment are referred to and negatived in a committee of the whole body, while the projects and interests of the Corporation meet with a secret but powerful support in the self-love of the different members. Remonstrance, opposition, is fruitless, troublesome, invidious; it answers no one end; and a conformity to the sense of the company is found to be no less necessary to a reputation for good-fellowship than to a quiet life. Self-love and social here look like the same; and in consulting the interests of a particular class, which are also your own, there is even a show of public virtue. […] In the meantime they eat, drink, and carouse together. They wash down all minor animosities and unavoidable differences of opinion in pint bumpers; and the complaints of the multitude are lost in the clatter of plates and the roaring of loyal catches at every quarter’s meeting or mayor’s feast. The town-hall reels with an unwieldy sense of self-importance; ‘the very stones prate’ of processions; the common pump creaks in concert with the uncorking of bottles and tapping of beer-barrels: the market-cross looks big with authority. Everything has an ambiguous, upstart, repulsive air. Circle within circle is formed, an imperium in imperio: and the business is to exclude from the first circle all the notions, opinions, ideas, interests, and pretensions of the second. Hence there arises not only an antipathy to common sense and decency in those things where there is a real opposition of interest or clashing of prejudice, but it becomes a habit and a favourite amusement in those who are ‘dressed in a little brief authority,’ to thwart, annoy, insult, and harass others on all occasions where the least opportunity or pretext for it occurs. […] The individual is the creature of his feelings of all sorts, the sport of his vices and his virtues—like the fool in Shakespear, ‘motley’s his proper wear’:—corporate bodies are dressed in a moral uniform; mixed motives do not operate there, frailty is made into a system, ‘diseases are turned into commodities.'”

Hazlitt, William. 2016 [1821]. “On Corporate Bodies.” Pp. 123-126 in  Table-Talk: Essays on Men and Manners. HardPress Publishing. 

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Finance under state capitalism: Re-conceptualising capital markets through China’s financial transformation

by Johannes Petry*

When one thinks of China, burgeoning capital markets – the epitomisation of free market capitalism – are certainly not the first thing that spring to mind. By 1989, capital markets did not even exist in China. But fast forward three decades, and China’s financial system has grown into a US$45 trillion industry that boasts the world’s the 2nd largest equity markets, 2nd largest bond markets and 3nd largest futures markets in the world, contributing 9% to China’s GDP. More companies have listed in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen than anywhere else, and while China’s markets had been virtually closed from the outside world for decades, they have become connected to both regional and global financial marketsat an unprecedented pace’. Capital markets have become a crucial part of China’s political economy, contributing to the increasing financialization of China’s socio-economic system since the global financial crisis 2007-2009.
A common outcome of such financialization processes is often a loss of power on behalf of the state – even though it might have initiated financial reforms and innovation – as it
increasingly needs to accommodate the growing power of private financial actors and follow financialised logics. China’s financialisation process, however, follows a distinctively different path. As I argue in an article that was recently published in Economy & Society, states can potentially exercise a considerable degree of control over financialization, thereby shaping its very form. What we can hence observe is afinancialization with Chinese characteristicswhere the state actively shapes financialization and its social outcomes. Although finance in China is expanding and permeating evermore aspects of economic and political life, this occurs within the context of China’s socio-economic system of authoritarian state capitalism in which the Chinese Communist Party aims to maintain its control over socio-economic development, in part by managing policy uncertainties through the financial sector. Thereby, the authorities try to actively manage financialization to achieve developmental goals. China’s president Xi Jinping, for instance, repeatedly made clear that the tasks of China’s financial sector were:[to] better serve the real economy, containing financial risks and deepening financial reforms’. Importantly, this is not done through brute force or command-and-control mechanisms, but through ‘pivotal points’ in market infrastructures that enable the management and steering of financialization processes.
To this end, the article analyses the crucial role of China’s state-owned securities exchanges in the development and management of Chinese capital markets. More than just marketplaces, as providers of market infrastructures
exchanges are themselves powerful actors that exercise considerable influence over capital markets. From market data and indices, listing/creation and trading of various securities, commodities and derivatives, to post-trading activities such as central clearing – exchanges decide the ‘rules of the game’ and act as gatekeepers, deciding who gets in, what is traded and how trading is conducted. Thereby, they are crucial to shaping capital markets. Through analysing the policies and practices of exchanges in managing capital markets, we can gain insights in how Chinese authorities aim to steer China’s financialization process. Capital markets can, thereby, be understood as a site where the authorities exercisestatecraft [through] financial controlwhich enables them to govern the socio-economic system. Control in this context should be understood both as exerting control within financialization by monitoring, regulating and intervening into capital markets, as well as exerting control through financialization by directing market outcomes towards the accomplishment of national development policies. As the paper explores, these target different dimensions of China’s authoritarian state capitalism – from financial risk, over social stability concerns, to the reform of Chinese companies.
This investigation reveals that while market-based finance emerged as an important economic governance tool in China, these capital markets function fundamentally different than ‘global’ capital markets. In a second article, recently published in Competition & Change, I therefore propose to re-evaluate common political economy conceptions of capital markets: instead of viewing these as uniform entities, in opposition to the state and interlinked with a neoliberal policy paradigm, to look at an institutionally embedded ‘varieties of capital markets’. In contrast to the premise that markets are uniform, following the likes of Keynes and Polanyi, economic sociology has shown that markets areembedded in distinct sets of social and political institutionsand thatmarkets do not emerge out of a vacuum’. While functionally all capital markets are characterised by market-based mechanisms of coordination between buyers, sellers and investors, applying the concept of institutional logics to capital markets reveals how the institutional embeddedness of markets and market organisers leads to different market dynamics and outcomes. Consequently, how exchanges (i.e. market organisers) are governed and which constraints and incentives they face matters for the types of markets they organise.
In the West, exchanges are publicly traded companies that have to make profitable business decisions to increase shareholder value; they are situated within an institutional setting informed by a neoliberal logic. The ostensible purpose of these capital markets is to create ‘efficient’ outcomes by enabling the generation of (private) profit, which is achieved by the principles of ‘free markets’ and ‘free flows of capital’ that should be responsible for allocating economic resources without state intervention. While the state is not absent, its priority is enabling private profit creation instead of other socio-economic outcomes,
cementing the power of private finance capital. Capital markets organised by these (mainly US-based) global exchanges should therefore be conceptualised as neoliberal capital markets. These markets dominate and perpetuate the contemporary neoliberal global financial order.
Instead of primarily following neoliberal principles, China’s state-owned exchanges meanwhile facilitate the development of what can be called state-capitalist capital markets
capital markets that follow an institutional logic derived from China’s state-capitalist economic system. The institutional logic of China’s state capitalism is not simply one of command-and-control but a combination of top-down state coordination and bottom-up market competition. Of course, millions of profit-driven speculating investors exist in China that create manias, panics and crashes like in any capital market. But whereas profit creation for private finance capital is the primary underlying principle in neoliberal markets, importantly, the Chinese state intervenes into capital markets to steer them into ‘productive’ tracks and facilitate state objectives. The defining difference between neoliberal and state-capitalist logic is not the existence of markets per se but rather the principles that underlie market organisation (profit creation vs state objectives) and the actors that dominate/shape these markets (private finance capital vs state institutions). Consequently, what can be observed in China is the emergence of a fundamentally different way of thinking about, managing and governing capital markets which are permeated by but also reproduce the institutional logic of Chinese state capitalism. By analysing the domestic development of Chinese capital markets, their integration into global markets and their internationalisation, the paper showcases how these markets consequently represent an alternative to, resist pressures to conform with and even actively challenge the neoliberal capital markets that underpin the contemporary global financial order.
This case study hence highlights the need to re-evaluate the conceptual toolbox with which we analyse finance. While capital markets can follow and facilitate neoliberal logic, this is not necessarily the case. Rather, capital markets are embedded within specific institutional settings whose institutional logic shapes how they function. This conceptual point is important when extending such an analysis of capital markets beyond China. Are there other ‘varieties of capital markets’ that are shaped by different institutional logics and differ from a uniform conception of ‘global’, ‘Anglo-American’ or ‘neoliberal’ capital markets in countries where the state maintains a qualitatively different role within the economy? In a new StateCapFinance research project, we seek to address this question by comparatively analysing the relationship between states and capital markets in six increasingly financialised state-capitalist economies (BRICSS) to create a better understand the interplay of models of capitalism, their trajectories of financialisation and how they interact with, integrate into and ultimately shape the global finance and the world economy.
——————–
* Johannes Petry is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the SCRIPTS Cluster of Excellence at Free University of Berlin and CSGR Research Fellow at the University of Warwick.
All emphases added by the editor.

Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange (by Johannes Petry)

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Great academic opportunities: 11 calls for papers, 8 jobs, 6 postdocs, 2 PhD fellowships, 2 visiting posts, 2 prizes

Dear ES/PE community member, see below a list of great academic opportunities:call for papers  11 calls for papers for conferences and special issues, 8 job openings, 6 post-doc positions, 2 PhD fellowships, 2 visiting posts, and 2 prizes in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with December 10 — January 15 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and students. Best wishes and good luck!

Calls for Papers:

> CfP: “Reconfiguring Labour and Welfare in Emerging Economies of the Global South” workshop, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research, Bielefeld University (Germany), December 6-8, 2021. No registration fees;  meals will be provided; travel and accommodation expenses will be covered. DL: December 10

> CfP: Warwick Critical Finance: manuscript development workshop for early career researchers, online, 18 February 18, 2021. DL: December 18

> Don’t you want to attend the most interesting and promising online talks and webinars on various topics in economic sociology and political economy from all over the world? Of course you do! So follow the ES/PE’s Facebook page and Twitter to have information about these events that are publicized only on our social media several days before they take place.

> CfP: “In Good Company? Personal Relationships, Network Embeddedness and Social Inclusion“, an issue of Social Inclusion. DL for abstracts: December 31

> CfP: “Political Economies of Deprivation“, a special issue of Review of Social Economy. DL for manuscripts: December 31

> CfP: “Workers and Obsolescence“, a special issue of International Labor and Working Class History. DL for proposals: January 5

> CfP: “Migration Worldwide: Left-wing Strategies, Migrant Actors and Capitalist Interests from the 16th Century to the Present“, the 56th International Conference of Labour and Social History, AK-Bildungshaus Jägermayrhof in Linz (Austria) and online, September 23-25, 2021. DL: January 10

> CfP: “Business History in a Changing World”, the 2nd World Congress on Business History and 24th Congress of the European Business History Association, online, September 9-11, 2021. DL: January 15 

> CfP: “Ethnography of Finance” session at the 8th Ethnography and Qualitative Research conference, Trento (Italy) or online, 9-12 June 2021. DL: January 15

> CfP: The 4th Conference of the European Labour History Network and WORCK Conference, Vienna (Austria), August 30-1 September, 202o. DL: January 15

> The BHC Doctoral Colloquium in Business History, online, June 10-11, 2021. Participants will receive a stipend to attend the 2022 Business History Conference. DL: January 15

> Political Economies of Capitalism, 1600-1850, a new Routledge book series to explore the dimensions of early modern political economy and the ways in which this period established foundations for and alternatives to capitalist thought and practice.

PhD Fellowships

> Funded PhD student positions in economic sociology and digital sociology as part of a qualitative research project “Social patterning of economic subjectivities and the digital transformation of retail finance in Switzerland” at the Università della Svizzera italiana (Lugano, Switzerland). DL: January 8

> Doctoral Fellowship in Law and Inequality (in residence), The American Bar Foundation (Chicago, IL, USA) DL: January 15

Postdoctoral Positions: 

> Postdoctoral Fellowships at the Cluster of Excellence “The Politics of Inequality”, University of Konstanz  (Germany). DL: December 13

> Postdoctoral scholar to conduct analyses of policy proposals related to poverty, inequality, economic security, hardship, and mobility, at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy, Columbia University School of Social Work. DL: December 15

> Postdoctoral Research Associate in Economic Sociology (4 years), the Department of Economic Sociology, University of Vienna (Austria). DL: December 21

> Researcher in urban political economy with specialization in real estate (2 years) to join the research group “Urban revolution and the Political”, Research Centre on Technologies, Territories and Societies – LATTS, Paris (France). DL: December 22

> Postdocs on Social Stratification through Population Scale Social Network Analysis, Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School. DL: January 4

> Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Inequality (2 years), The American Bar Foundation (Chicago, IL, USA). DL: January 15

Visiting positions:

> Berggruen USC Fellows to study the Future of Capitalism, the University of Southern California (USA). DL: January 8

> Visiting fellowships at the Center for the History of Political Economy (senior scholars, junior scholars, PhD students), Duke University. DL: January 10

Prizes:

> Journal of Australian Political Economy offers a $2000 prize to encourage young scholars to convert their research work into a publishable article. DL: December 18

> The Future Markets Consultation initiative invites students and young scholars to submit their essay on a sustainable and just market economy for Europe. A prize is available in three categories: bachelor students (€500), master & PhD students (€1.250), and young scholars (€1.750). DL: January 3

Job openings:

> Lecturer in Employment & Organization, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University (UK). DL: December 11.

>  A senior expert on the topic of sustainable and just economies, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development – UNRISD (Geneva, Switzerland). DL: December 13

>  A permanent University Lecturer (i.e. Assistant Professor) in the Political Economy of Development, based in the Centre of Development Studies, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge (UK). DL: January 1

> Instructor in Heterodox Economics & Political Economy (full-time), University of Manitoba (Canada). DL: January 4

> Assistant Professor in Regulation, Business, and Economic Power, the Dept. of Law & Legal Studies, Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada). DL: January 6

> Professor for Sociology, Transnationalism, and Labour, Ruhr-Universität Bochum (Germany). DL: January 8

> Chair in Social and Political Change, Department of Political and Social Sciences, The European University Institute (Florence, Italy). DL: January 14

> Full Professor of Global Political Economy, University of Bayreuth (Germany). DL: January 15

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B&B: Tax flight myth // Covid-19 and a crisis of neoliberalism // Models, morals and Wall Street // Caste systems persist // Smart City or corporate siege // New Labour’s unions reform

> If taxes rise, the rich will leave! No, they won’t. Contrary to popular opinion, although the rich have the resources and capacity to flee high-tax places, their actual migration is surprisingly limited — a video lecture by Cristobal Young, the author of The Myth of Millionaire Tax Flight: How Place still Matters for the Rich

> How the Covid-19 pandemic and mass protests against police brutality lay bare a crisis of neoliberalism — a podcast featuring Wendy Brown, the author of In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West

> How the use of economic models and the moral disengagement this has created have significantly transformed the global financial industry — a review of Daniel Beunza’s award-winning Taking the Floor: Models, Morals and Management in a Wall Street Trading Room

> Do you want to attend the most interesting and promising online talks and webinars on various topics in economic sociology and political economy from all over the world? So follow the ES/PE’s Facebook page and Twitter to have information about these events that are publicized only on our social media several days before each conference.

> Destabilizing Orders: Understanding the Consequences of Neoliberalism” was the topic of a conference that brought together outstanding economic sociologists and political economists that were asked not to prepare a conventional paper, but a short thinknote. Find here a collection of these thinknotes by Mark Blyth, Will Davies, Wolfgang Streeck, Colin Hay, Marie-Laure Salles-Djelic, Donald MacKenzie, Marion Fourcade, Olivier Godechot, Cornelia Woll, Adam Goldstein, Dorit Geva, and more.

> United States and India have abolished the formal laws that defined their caste systems, but both caste systems live on in hearts, habits, and institutions. In the American caste system, the signal of rank is an enduring racial hierarchy — by

> Are Smart City,  Smart Home and Internet of Things the utilities making our life more convenient? Or do they embody the corporate colonisation of domestic environment and everyday life by information processing and networked services  for commercial purposes? — An extract from Adam Greenfield’s Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life

> Twenty years ago today Tony Blair’s government initiated a reform that promised to lead to widespread union recognition. Now it’s clear that it wasn’t so friendly to labour and didn’t pose a real threat to capital — by Gregor Gall, the author of Handbook of the Politics of Labour, Work and Employment

books on neoliberalism

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Towards a New Political Economy of India: the Formation of Rural Middle Classes

by Maryam Aslany*

For observers of the developing world, the ‘middle class’ has become a key category of economic analysis and forecasting. The discussion suffers, however, from a major oversight, since it assumes that the middle class is exclusively urban. Drawing on a detailed study of two villages in western Maharashtra, India, Contested Capital is the first examination of the developing world’s rural middle classes. Only by putting this novel, dynamic and neglected group into the picture, it argues, can we understand some of the critical transformations in today’s global population and economy.
This requires consideration, first, of some of the most contentious questions in contemporary sociology: who or what constitutes the middle class, and how may we draw boundaries around it? From Marx, Weber and Bourdieu follow three traditions of class analysis, respectively conceptualising classes on the basis of: productive capital (relations of production); social and marketable capital (market situation); and symbolic and cultural capital (accumulation of knowledge and appropriation of cultural awareness). These traditions delineate the middle class in very different ways. Many Marxist scholars deny the existence of the middle class altogether; even when it is recognised, it is treated as an anomaly, situated, as an unproductive class, between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Followers of Weber define the middle class in terms of marketable capital – such as skills and credentials – but differ greatly when it comes to the role of property and labour markets. Those inspired by Bourdieu identify the middle class by its control of cultural capital, and pay attention to such questions as taste and habitus.
In order to capture the full range of these complexities, Contested Capital draws successively on the perspectives of each of these class theorists. Its multidimensional portrayal of Maharashtrian village society offers three related, but theoretically distinct, accounts of the formation of India’s rural middle classes.
The “Marxian” account suggests that middle-class formation is taking place rapidly in the Indian countryside, and in a way quite unknown in other contexts. Rural middle classes are engaged in a great range of new industrial and service-sector occupations, and there is great complexity and paradox in their labour relations. Their class position is perennially unstable, incorporating features of the industrial working class and the class of capitalist farmers. Although members of this class are engaged in factory work, they use this income to expand agricultural production and accumulate surplus by hiring in agricultural labourers. These forms of ‘awkwardness’ in rural class relations move the analysis beyond polar class rigidities.
The book then shifts to a “Weberian” perspective. Turning away from exploitation as the determinant of class formation, it looks instead at occupational mobility and skill differentials. This section seeks to understand the rural middle classes in terms of ‘life chances’ in the labour market, and examines the great range of methods by which rural households seek upward social mobility and negotiate their entry into the middle-class skilled-labour market.
In the third section, Bourdieu’s concepts of social and cultural capital are applied to rural India and adapted to regional specificities. (Bourdieu himself invited his readers to find equivalents of his social distinctions and habitus in other global contexts.) My interviewees define their new middle-class identity in terms of their social distance from manual work, poverty, and from dependency. Self-sufficiency is crucial: they are adamant that they are not ‘poor’, and that their lives have an adequate material quality. These self-identified rural middle classes also harbour specific aspirations for their children: a private English-medium education, proficiency in the use of the English language, and employment outside agriculture. Proficiency in English is perceived not only as an economic asset for the future, enabling better access to non-farm employment, but also as a prestigious distinction in itself, related to ideas of global connectivity.
This third, Bourdieu-inspired, approach also involves unravelling the complex meanings of cultural goods. The book demonstrates that there has been a rapid and significant transformation in the patterns of consumption in rural India, characterised by new housing styles and interior designs, as well as a large range of consumer goods which were previously absent from rural households but which now are ‘necessary’ for the expression of novel class distinctions.
These three analyses provide a multifaceted portrait of an emerging class whose particular dynamics – since I estimate it to comprise 17% of the rural population, which equates to about 150 million people – are critical for our understanding of the emerging Indian reality. It is notable, for instance, that entry into this class is largely achieved through the efforts of male youths, assisted by acquired informal educational credentials and ascribed caste. Though there have been dramatic shifts in rural employment, these have not necessarily changed the gender division of labour: the new occupations in industry and services are primarily performed by men, while women mostly carry out agricultural work alongside household domestic labour – either on family-owned land or as casual labourers. My findings also suggest striking caste stratifications within rural middle classes. They are primarily constituted by upper and middle castes. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are mainly excluded.
The formation of India’s rural middle class rests on a set of economic, social and cultural processes that have unfolded as a result of the liberalisation of the Indian economy. One of the most visible rural consequences of this has been the industrialisation of many village peripheries, to the extent that agriculture is no longer the primary economic focus of rural life. Diversification is now a central feature of the rural economy and society, and as households have simultaneously engaged with both agriculture and industrial employment, they have constructed novel class positions and identities. The resulting rural middle class has economic characteristics, lifestyles, aspirations and consumption patterns that are entirely distinct from its urban counterpart.
Since these processes continue to transform the Indian countryside at a great pace, we can assume that the rural middle class will become more defined and significant over time. Contested Capital argues that its influence will be widely felt, and in ways that could not be predicted from the behaviour of the urban middle classes. The rural middle class will have distinctive demands, for instance, for industrial and agricultural policies – demands that are also quite different from those of rural elites or the rural poor. This emerging class will therefore come to shape processes of state planning, wealth redistribution and rural development.
While there are undoubtedly considerable regional variations, the remarkable economic and social transformations described in Contested Capital are unlikely to be specific to the villages of Maharashtra. Its study of the rural middle class, in fact, can be seen as the first step in a new political economy of India – and perhaps elsewhere.
————————
Dr. Maryam Aslany is a Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo and a part-time Career Development Researcher at Wolfson College, University of Oxford. Email: marasl@prio.org

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Foucault: Neoliberalism Redefined Homo Economicus

Michel Foucault, a lecture at the Collège de France, March 1979:

“The characteristic feature of the classical conception of homo economicus is the partner of exchange and the theory of utility based on a problematic of needs.
In neo-liberalism — and it does not hide this; it proclaims it — there is also a theory of homo economicus, but he is not at all a partner of exchange. Homo economicus is an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of himself. This is true to the extent that, in practice, the stake in all neo-liberal analyses is the replacement every time of homo economicus as partner of exchange with a homo economicus as entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings. (p. 225-6)
[Gary] Becker, for example — the most radical of the American neoliberals, if you like — says that it is still not sufficient, that the object of economic analysis can be extended even beyond rational conduct as defined and understood…, and that economic laws and economic analysis can perfectly well be applied to non-rational conduct, that is to say, to conduct which does not seek at all, or, at any rate, not only to optimize the allocation of scarce resources to a determinate end. Becker says: Basically, economic analysis can perfectly well find its points of anchorage and effectiveness if an individual’s conduct answers to the single clause that the conduct in question reacts to reality in a nonrandom way. That is to say, any conduct which responds systematically to modifications in the variables of the environment, in other words, any conduct, as Beeker says, which “accepts reality,” must be susceptible to economic analysis. (p. 269)
In Becker’s definition which I have just given, homo economicus, that is to say, the person who accepts reality or who responds systematically to modifications in the variables of the environment, appears precisely as someone manageable, someone who responds systematically to systematic modifications artificially introduced into the environment. Homo economicus is someone who is eminently governable. From being the intangible partner of laissez-faire, homo economicus now becomes the correlate of a governmentality which will act on the environment and systematically modify its variables. (Foucault 2008: 270-1).”

Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979. Palgrave Macmillan.

Foucault The Birth of Biopolitics Neoliberalism

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Human Need vs. Capitalist Greed: a Gastronomic Rebuttal of Mainstream Economics

by Michael Symons*

“A tap of my magic wand… and all you see is money!” With this, the conjurer distracts attention from healthy bodies, happy households, wise governments, and nature. Even the actual market of bread, apples and beer disappears behind the price mechanism. For more than two centuries, capitalism has rewritten economics.
The ancient Greek oikonomia – “household management” – concerned the satisfaction of basic human needs. Economics remained that way until the rise of for-profit corporations in the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century. To suit capitalism, modern economists concentrated everyone’s attention on the powerful tool, money.
Mainstream economists celebrated financial rule, and relegated human needs to, at best, incidental beneficiaries. Instead of appetite, the motive became greed. Instead of well-being, wealth meant bullion. Instead of natural growth, it became money’s eternal expansion. Instead of every individual counting, it became each for himself.
Success was measured by market indices, inflation, deficits, GDP, bottom lines, and tax cuts.  Money gained such a hold that it shrank a person to a buyer-seller, merging human-beings with for-profit corporations. The relentless push for profit culminated in crises in health, equity, democracy and nature.

My latest book, Meals Matter: A Radical Economics Through Gastronomy, explores how actual economies put food on the table, and how capitalism up-ended that, neglecting human needs, with unhappy results. Dedicated to gastronomy as the “diner’s sense of the world”, the book rereads Epicurus, Hobbes, Locke, Quesnay, Brillat-Savarin, Marx, Jevons, Weber, Mises, Polanyi, Fisher, and Friedman, among the mix. Taking meals seriously upsets political and economic orthodoxies, as I sketch here.
By “radical” economics, I don’t mean extreme, just getting back to basics – true to the word’s derivation from the Latin radix for “root” (as in “radish”). Such grounded activities as gardening, cooking, drinking, and talking politics might seem “trivial” from some superior vantage-point. However, the “little things” are highly significant at the grass roots, and multiply across humanity. The deterioration of trade relations with China or some militant action might claim “importance”, but only from its links to everyday experience.
Meals Matter shows how such Enlightenment thinkers as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau still based their arguments on the fundamental need to eat and drink. For them, the natural law of “self-preservation” called for “subsistence”, “comforts” and “conveniencies”.
Locke’s core right to “life” meant to a living or livelihood, that is, to “food and raiment, and other conveniencies”. Locke quoted Richard Hooker’s statement that, to obtain necessities, “we are naturally induced to seek communion and fellowship with others… in politic societies”.
For Locke, in the Second Treatise chapter “On property”, the plain fact was that people, “once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their subsistence”. He raised questions about when an apple becomes “one’s own” (that is, property) – is it when digested, chewed, cooked, brought home or picked? The individual also had to be permitted to labour on their self-preservation, within bodily, social and natural limits.
Enlightenment theorists knew several types of household or economy, each based on a different mode of distribution. Only two types used money, and even then it was not essential.
The original oikos or family economy circulates nutriments through communism. Although sometimes distorted through paternalism, the family follows the guideline, “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. Finding parallels with the domestic household, Enlightenment thinkers knew the human body as the “animal economy”, employing digestive and circulatory systems.
In like manner, the “political economy” was a “body politic”. Depicting the head, heart and arms in the frontispiece to his Leviathan, Hobbes saw money coursing around the body politic as preserved food, kept for another time or place. In Chapter 24 of Leviathan, Hobbes explained:

By Concoction, I understand the reducing of all commodities, which are not presently consumed, but reserved for Nourishment in time to come, to some thing of equall value, and withall so portable, as not to hinder the motion of men from place to place; to the end a man maye have in what place soever, such Nourishment as the place affordeth. And this is nothing else but Gold, and Silver, and Mony.

The body politic’s “head” – in charge of collecting and redistributing food (or its substitute) – could be an autocrat or group of people. (My book discusses the political banquet in more detail.)
Thinkers back then spoke of the confining, “natural economy”. Charles Darwin still used the Linnean phrases, “economy of nature” and “polity of nature”, in Origin of Species in 1959; Ernst Haeckel coined “ecology” in 1866.
As well as these economies, a separate market economy, based on exchange, became more visible in the mid-eighteenth century. The French économistes, led by Madame de Pompadour’s physician François Quesnay, found parallels of the œconomie animale in the distribution of grain, hampered by the interventions of the “baker-king”.
Visiting France through 1764-1766, during an experiment in grain-trade liberalization, Adam Smith picked up économiste ideas about leaving the market to its own devices. Nonetheless, Smith still introduced Wealth of Nations in 1776, with the recognition that, through the “co-operation and assistance of great multitudes”, such as the butcher, brewer, and baker, “we expect our dinner”.
Radical ideas supported American, French, and subsequent republics. However, just when the people were successfully contesting autocracy, corporate capitalism muscled in.
Jean-Baptiste Say’s interpretation of Smith as a free marketeer influenced a new generation of business-linked political economists (no longer physicians and philosophers), among them David Ricardo, who found importance in the arithmetical relationships between workers’ wages, business operators’ profits and property-owners’ rents.
Along with that, capitalist authority relentlessly undercut and also, where convenient, appropriated Lockean guidelines. In particular, the confusingly-named “classical” liberalism handed the human right of self-preserving liberty to money, thereby backing “laissez-faire”, then “free enterprise” and eventually “neoliberal” campaigns.
With capitalism picking up pace, radical arguments from below returned with Karl Marx, for whom the “first premise” of society remained “eating and drinking, housing, clothing and various other things”. He found importance in the class struggle over the ownership of the means of production.
With the “marginal revolution” of the 1860-70s, Stanley Jevons, Carl Menger and other economic theorists elevated market exchanges of actual meat, beer and bread into differential equations.
“Political economists” dropped the modifier through the nineteenth century, becoming, imperialistically, “economists”. Self-styled “economists” presented “the economy” as little more than profits and prices, and so tasteless, colourless, unequal, and not alive. For decades, the financial superstructure suppressed radical insights.
The Sixties brought some relief, when the technological sophistication of capitalist industry required a more highly educated workforce, and slicker marketing formed desirous consumers. The counterculture gained gastronomic appetites, with concerns for unprocessed foods, co-ops, communes, “dropping out”, the environment, and, in 1969, the Black Panther free breakfast program for school children.
The now abstract notions of “liberty” and “equality before the law” were employed to free up aspects of society and culture, among the most notable being women’s liberation. Centre-left governments of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Paul Keating and others found common cause with neoliberalism’s libertarian tendencies, while remaining ensnared in money’s insistent logic. With a resurgence of conservative reaction, money resorted again to culture wars, with liberals now the dangerous “other”.
Recommending a considerably more intricate, life-centred economics, Meals Matter looks to the everyday activism of growers, cooks, and meal-lovers through a bewildering array of grassroots movements for urban farms, alternative economies, Slow Food, food justice, food sovereignty, agroecology, and more.
Radical economists must call money’s bluff, and prosecute a full agenda, including the freeing of “free” markets, held hostage to corporations. Fundamentally, hope lies in the joyful rediscovery of the “little things” for which all individuals have equal rights, pursuing life, liberty, and happiness in harmony with the rest of nature.
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* Dr. Michael Symons’ latest book, Meals Matter: A Radical Economics through Gastronomy, is now published by Columbia University Press. He has been an environmental journalist, run a restaurant, and initiated symposiums of gastronomy. His PhD is in the “sociology of cuisine” from Flinders University. For more: https://mealsmatter.net/

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Great academic opportunities: 13 calls for papers, 12 jobs, 7 post-docs, 3 PhD fellowships, 2 summer schools, a grant

Dear ES/PE community member, see below a list of great academic opportunities:call for papers  13 calls for papers for conferences and special issues, 12 job openings, 7 post-doc positions, 3 PhD fellowships, 2 summer schools, and a grant in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with November 1 — December 1 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and students. Best wishes and good luck!
> A reminder: Do you want to attend the most interesting and promising online talks and webinars on various topics in economic sociology and political economy from all over the world? Follow the ES/PE’s Facebook page and Twitter to have information about these events that is publicized only on our social media several days before each event.

Calls for Papers:

> CfP: “Global Labor and Supply Chains“, New Global Studies’ special issue. DL: November 1

> CfP: The First Doctoral Conference on the Social and Political Constitution of the Economy, organized by the International Max Planck Research School (Cologne, Germany), ONLINE, March 24–26, 2021. DL: November 8

> CfP:  Theory, History, Sociology, Philosophy, Methodology, and Policy”, International Symposium on Economic Thought by the Research Platform on Economic Thought, ONLINE, 28-30 November, 2020. Keynoters: Gerald Friedman, James Kenneth Galbraith, Geoffrey Hodgson, Marianne Johnson, Louis-Philippe Rochon. No fee. DL: November 8

>   CfP: “The Politics of Regulation and Central Banking“, The Centre for Economic Policy Research conference series on the political economy of finance, Rotterdam School of Management on ONLINE,  February 12, 2021. Keynote: Francesco Trebbi. No submission fee. DL: November 15

> CfP: “Home- and Community-Based Work at the Margins of Welfare: Balancing between Disciplinary, Participatory and Caring Approaches“, Social Inclusion‘s special issue. DL: November 15

CfP: “Business History: Building for the Future“, Annual Meeting of the Business History Conference, ONLINE, March 11–14t, 2021. DL: November 14

> CfP: “A Transformational Moment? Work, Worker Power and the Workplace in an Era of Division and Disruption“, the 73rd Labor and Employment Relations Association conference, ONLINE, June 3 – 6, 2021. DL: November 15

> CfP: “The ‘new’ social relations of digital technology and the future of work“, New Technology, Work and Employment‘s special issue. DL: November 30

> CfP: The Max Planck Online Workshop in Comparative Political Economy — a new monthly online seminar series in comparative political economy hosted by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, starting in January 2021. DL: November 30

> CfP:  “Leveraging Chinese dreams and capital: State power dynamics and sub-national industrial manoeuvres” workshop and special issue, City University of Hong Kong and ONLINE. DL: November 30

> CfP: “The Role of the State in the post-COVID 21st Century”, the 15th International Karl Polanyi Conference organized by Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy (Concordia University), ONLINE, April 22-24, 2021. Keynoters: Sheila R. Foster, Robert Kuttner, Ann Pettifor, Quinn Slobodian. DL: December 1

> CfP: “A World of Things’: Consumerism, Consumption, and Commodities” virtual conference organized by the World History Association of Texaz and Texas A&M University-Commerce, February 20, 2021. DL: December 1

> CfP: “Making and Breaking Boundaries in Work and Employment Relations“, the 19th  International Labour and Employment Relations Association congress, Lund University (Sweden) and ONLINE, June 21-24, 2021. DL: December 1

PhD Fellowships

> PhD scholarship on platform workers in the project “The Digital Economy at Work”, Dept. of Sociology, University of Copenhagen (Denmark). DL: November 1

> PhD studentship on informal and shadow economies, Tallinn University of Technology (Estonia). DL: November 20

> PhD student in the frame of “Mapping Uncertainties, Challenges and Future Opportunities of Emerging Markets: Informal Barriers, Business Environments and Future Trends in Eastern Europe, The Caucasus and Central Asia”, The Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki (Finland). DL: November 30

Postdoctoral Positions: 

Postdoctoral Social Scientist in the field of Private Wealth Research for a project led by Professor Jens Beckert at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne (Germany). DL: November 1

> Unestablished University Lectureship in Economic Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge (UK). DL: November 7

> The Hellenic Bank Association Postdoctoral Fellowship in Contemporary Greek and Cypriot Studies to focus on Political Economy, the European Institute at the LSE (London, UK). DL: November 15

> Two Postdoctoral Scholar to work on socio-economic inequality, the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, The Graduate Center, CUNY (USA). DL: November 15

> Postdoctoral researcher within the framework of a project ‘‘Reconnecting Citizens to the Administrative State?’, the Institute of Public Administration of Leiden University (The Netherlands). DL: November 18

> Inequality in America Initiative Postdoctoral Fellowship, Harvard University. DL: November 20 

> Postdoctoral Research Associate working on international and comparative political economy, international organization and global governance, and globalization, Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance, Princeton University (NJ, USA). DL: November 27

Grants:

> The Russell Sage Foundation funding on : Future of Work / Social, Political and Economic Inequality. DL: November 11

Summer Schools:

> CfA: “Sustainable Work” summer academy for PhD students and post-docs, Research Network Working Futures and Centre Marc Bloch,  Caputh (near Berlin, German) , May 26-29, 2021. DL: November 30

> CfA: “On the Political Economy of Digitality“, Lucerne Master Class for PhD Students with Marion Fourcade, University of Lucerne (Switzerland), April 26– 30, 2021. Catering and accommodation expenses will be covered; travel expenses will be partly reimbursed. DL: December 1

Job openings:

> Associate Lecturer/Lecturer in Political Economy, the School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Sydney (Australia). DL: November 1

> A tenure-track Assistant Professor in Economic Inequality, the Department of Sociology, Boston University (MA, USA). DL: November 1

>  A tenure-track faculty position on all levels in Employment / Industrial Relations, the School of Labor and Employment Relations, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (USA). DL: November 1

> Three permanent posts of Lecturer or Senior Lecturer in Economics specializing in feminist economics / history of economic thought / critical economics / qualitative research / institutionalism / development economics,  the Business School, University of the West of England, Bristol (UK). DL: November 1

> Assistant Professor in Public Policy focusing on economic and social inequality and stratification, Scrivner Institute of Public Policy – Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University if Denver (CO, USA). DL: November 1

> Endowed professorships at any rank who focus on class and inequality, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University (MD, USA). DL: November 6

> Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology & Black Studies specializing in Economic Sociology, Providence College (RI, USA). DL: November 13

> Senior Researcher in sociology / social policy / political science, The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, Kalamazoo (MI, USA). DL: November 15

> Tenured Associate Professor focusing on risk management / entrepreneurship / health / digital business and analytics / social impact, the Boston University Questrom School of Business. DL: November 30

> Researcher or Senior Researcher with a focus on International Political Economy, the Danish Institute for International Studies (Copenhagen). DL: November 30 

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B&B: Debt is a social construction // Erasure of a black middle class // Miseducation and inequality // Neoliberal quantification in academia // Promoting democracy or “free market” ideas?

> “Debt is a social construction, fundamentally malleable, and what’s unmanageable must eventually be seen as immoral” — Olivia Schwob discusses the long history of debt cancellation and calls to consider taking this path, reflecting on excellent books on debt and credit: Bruce Mann’s Neighbors and Strangers: Law and Community in Early Connecticut and Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence, Philip Gura’s Man’s Better Angels: Romantic Reformers and the Coming of Civil War, Louis Hyman Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink, David Graeber’s  Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and Strike Debt! movement’s Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual 

> Since the 1980s, the enemies of equal employment and upward mobility for blacks have been the corporate governance and maximizing Shareholder Value ideologies that smashed unionized jobs — by William Lazonick, Philip Moss, Joshua Weitz

> How does the class inequalities persists in education from the transition to secondary school up to university. Natasha Codiroli Mcmaster reviews and Diane Reay’s book that displays the personalisation of everyday working-class experiences and statistics on inequality —  Miseducation: Inequality, Education and the Working Classes

> Do you want to attend the most interesting and promising online talks and webinars on various topics in economic sociology and political economy from all over the world? So follow the ES/PE’s Facebook page and Twitter to have information about these events that are publicized only on our social media several days before each conference.

> How do new forms of digital and mobile money impact people’s everyday financial lives?  How do these technologies intersect with other financial repertoires as well as other socio-cultural institutions? How do they shape the global politics and geographies of  inequality? Smoki Musaraj and Ivan Small present their book (co-edited also by Bill Maurer) Money at the Margins: Global Perspectives on Technology, Financial Inclusion, and Design

> Neoliberal quantification at work: When in 2010 universities incorporated citations in promotion decisions, scholars’ self-citation rates went up by 81-179%, reveals a paper “Self-citations as strategic response to the use of metrics for career decisions” by Marco Seeber, MattiaCattaneo, MicheleMeoli, and Paolo Malighetti (open access)

> Arjun Appadurai contends that one of problems of The Light That Failed: Why the West Is Losing the Fight for Democracy is Krastev and Holmes’ inattention to the US and West’s promotion of their economic interests in the Eastern Europe in the 1990s, making aid and trade conditional on accepting the “free market” ideas

> 740 Park Avenue, Manhattan, is home to the 1% of the 1%. Ten minutes to the north, half the population need food stamps. Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream is an excellent documentary (especially for teaching) about rocketing inequality in the US in the last 30 years (open access on Youtube)

debt credit history

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