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Re: <nettime> money is always personal and impersonal
Keith Hart on Sat, 10 Feb 2007 01:16:05 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> money is always personal and impersonal


Ben,

Thanks for your immediate and detailed response. The issues you raise go 
to the heart of what I was exploring and I could reply at greater 
length, but I will restrict myself here to some headlines.

> What you seem to be getting at here is that in order to "assume 
> responsibility for life as a whole on this planet", we need something 
> like a world market, rather than a world of small economies based on 
> "the person, the family or local groups". I think it's worth 
> questioning that idea.  Can the relatively recent phenomenon of the 
> world market, involving impersonal trade on the scale currently 
> practised, be made sustainable in terms of energy consumption and 
> environmental impact?
I accept the critique of those who say conventional economics leaves out 
personal, domestic and local perspectives, but I suggest that we also 
need to get a better handle on the wider horizons of our social 
experience and connect the two sides more meaningfully. Markets have 
always been world markets in the sense that their extent is unknowable. 
Instead of reducing what is going on today to the familiar and everyday, 
I argue that we also need ways of connecting that level with more 
inclusive and abstract dimensions of society. Money and markets have 
traditionally done that, but not satisfactorily in the forms that 
currently dominate the human economy. It may well be that environmental 
and energy considerations will lead to a revision of economic forms and 
of their desirable scale. But I would have thought that global economic 
issues are bound to remain a matter of common concern.
>
> There is also the argument that the imposition of the impersonal 
> economy has destroyed beneficial social relationships,
> while failing to provide adequate substitutes.  Pierre Bourdieu gives 
> examples of the violence of the impersonal economy...
>
> Echoing Polanyi...
>
> Echoing Mauss...
>
> He compares what was gained in this transformation with what was lost: 
> ...To subject all the behaviours of existence to calculating reason, 
> as demanded by the economy, is to break with the logic of *philia*, of 
> which Aristotle spoke...
>
> To me it seems very doubtful that such systems, which are based on the 
> 'spirit of calculation', can ever compensate for the loss of real 
> solidarity based on familiarity and trust, i.e. on the refusal of 
> calculation. 
Aristotle is indeed the godfather of this position and you are right to 
cite Polanyi as a faithful adherent of it. It is based upon a 
fundamental opposition between the self-interested market and a 
small-scale vision of society based on the family, viewing the former as 
a threat to the latter. Without being reductionist, it also represents 
the interests of a military landowning class against those of urban 
commerce. Much in the history of modern socialism also harks back to 
this ideology. The Bourdieu argument you cite is similar, contrasting 
two ideal types of colonial capitalism and pre-existing rural society. 
One of the main points of my piece was to extract Mauss from being lined 
up with this tendency.

He was quite stridently anti-capitalist, unlike his uncle, but he also 
insisted that this contrast between commercial self-interest ("the 
spirit of calculation") and a world epitomised by the gift was itself 
now a plank of bourgeois ideology. He sought to expose the personal, 
social and spiritual aspects of the market economy, despite its dominant 
impersonal institutions, and sought to expand their scope through, for 
example, a co-operative approach to them. He was not against money or 
markets as such, only a one-sided emphasis of profit at the expense of 
wider social interests. If you look at his Ecrits Politiques (1997), you 
will see that he took a global view of economy and politics; and 
certainly did not believe a retreat to small-scale familism was possible 
or desirable in the modern world.

Keith


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