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nettime: rewiring state and market
McKenzie Wark on Sun, 5 Jan 97 15:03 MET


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nettime: rewiring state and market



State/market... state/market -- its interesting how much
of a strong residue of dialectical thinking there is in
the way these terms come into play in all the debates about
'techno-libertarianism' and all that. But i suspect that
posing things in those terms gives far too much credibility
to the ideological jousting between liberal democrats and
social democrats in European politics -- after all, both
sides have adopted much the same politics when if office,
depending more on specific national configurations of the
balance of power and the prevailing economic climate.

Also lurking behind such a debate is simple class interest
-- those of us who rely on state subsidy or employ tend
to look on it as benign, and likewise those of us employed
*willingly* in the commercial sector see nothing evil in it.
As someone who works for both the Australian government and
Rupert Murdoch's News Corp -- i must confess to a certain
schizophrenia on that one!

So what if we find another way of thinking about this than as
a dialectic between state and market, where the identity of
each exists only in its opposition and conflict with its
other. 

For starters, its not all that controversial to talk about
markets in the plural, but somehow the state seems to get
homogenised and reified into a thing rather more consistently.
Perhaps it helps to talk, not about the state, but about 
what Foucault called 'governmentality' -- a pervasive and
disagregated network of institutionalised power and knowledge
that works right across the social, economic, cultural and
political spheres. 

At some point, those institutions do cohere into 'the state' --
and i've always agreed with Poulantzas' complaint that Foucault
disagregates the state a little too thoroughly. But perhaps the
point at which the state becomes a coherent entity is mostly
symbolic. I don't know about anywhere else, but in my country,
neither the high court, nor the senior public service, nor the
executive arm of government, nor even the cabinet wields all that
much coherent authority. The state is at once actually dispersed
and at least symbolically unified.

Now, if we look across the social field, i think we can see lots
of little instances where the institutions of state are necessary
for the emergence and continued functioning of institutions of
market -- and vice versa. Far from being a dialectical opposition,
they exist in relations of continuous machinic coupling. Of course
these state+market machines break down as often as they work --
what keeps both alive, if anything, is this continual assembling,
disassembling and reassembling of little machines that govern resources
or allocate them. 

Take a piece of paper money out of your wallet and look at the fine
print. Chances are that somewhere on it is the signature of the
secretary of the national treasury or some equivalent agency. Open 
today's newspaper and look at the business news. Chances are there
will be stories that mention the value of a given company, its
quarterly projects, and so forth. In both cases, what we're looking
at is one of the key things that i think contemporary state
institutions do: stabilise the referents. An Australian dollar is
worth somethng because of the shared perception of actors in 
various market places that the state institution that printed it
is trustworthy. An Australian company is worth something because
the standards of accounting written into legislation and tested
in the law courts are accepted as more or less true. In other
words, the state manages the value of a series of key referents
without which the contemporary economy simply won't function.

The 'national' economy is something more than a fiction. Or rather,
its a fiction that actors choose to believe in every time they
accept a transaction based on its rules -- and thus make actual.
The national economy is a plane of immanence -- a field of action
created by a patchwork of institutions, which manage, among other
things, key referents like the value of any and every material
and immaterial good made or traded across its space. 

To some extent its misleading to talk about a 'global' economy,
for such a thing does not yet exist. What does exist is, strictly
speaking an inter-national economy. A series of para-state
institutions now manage the 'translation' of one set of national
referents into another. The OECD, for example, the World Bank,
the IMF, the GATT and now the WTO. It true enough that the rise
of contemporary communcation vectors allows the circulation of
capital across national borders at a speed and volume hitherto
unprecedented. Yet it is still reliant on the translatability
of one set of national referents into another. 

In both cases -- the national economy and the inter-national
economy, what happens is that emergent activities always
require both market and state institutional productivity --
and *both* market and state productivity can be a top-down
or a bottom-up affair. Its simply not the case that all modern,
'western' states operate in a top down fashion. That is no
more a characteristic of state organisation than of corporate
organisation. State policy also draws in ideas and builds
organisation from the bottom up. This is perhaps more obvious,
and easier to make work, in a small country than in a big
one. (And things are helped greatly if we remember that the
United States is not a country at all, but an empire, with
quite different logics of organisation to either the state
or market). 

Communication and media policy are interesting examples here.
There's always a mix of top-down and bottom-up in their
formulation. Sometimes News Corp (for example) gets its way
-- as it did with Margaret Thatcher over satellite TV 
broadcasting. Sometimes it doesn't, as with the persistence
of foreign ownership and cross media ownership rules in
Australia. There bottom-up policy formation processes have
(so far) prevailed on these particular issues. In any case,
once the state sets certain regulatory perameters, the market
can be said to have been *created*. Without the stabilisation
of the referents -- no market. With a few fences put in place,
then the mad scramble is on as businesses invest and invent
themelves. One could point to similar instances in the 
international relationship between state and market. 

It is true enough to say that if there is no global market, 
there is at least a tendency towards globalisation. I think this
calls for something of a shift in perspective. Its rhetorically
efective to play off the 'little' forces that buzz about in
the market place against the 'big' state -- but not always a
good diagnosis. In relation to the potential *scale* of a 
global market -- states are small. They are 'grass roots'. 
They are 'bottom-up'. What looks big and formidable from the local
perspective starts to look small and weak when seen from the
scale of the global perspective. 

This has always been obvious to those of us in peripheral states.
The state was and remains our defence *against* the international
economy. Because from the peripheral point of view, the international
economy has always been there, has always been a problem. Its
only formerly central states now feeling the shift in scale caused
by more rapid globalisation who experience the 'global' as anything
new. On this point, what i would like to say to my european friends
is *welcome to the rest of the world*. 

So i think its time for the peripheral attitude to the state to be
considered in the old metropolitan core -- which may not be a core
for very much longer. When i read Deleuze and Guattari on the state,
i'm conscious of how little they were able to see outside of typical
May 68 anti-statism. Even more troubling, they still invest the
French state with enough of its own sense of greatness to bother
taking an oppositional stance in relation to it. But in relation
to the deterritorialising power of capital combined with the
contemporary communication vector, its shrinking, like Alice, intothe 
inperceptible. 

The May 68 opposition to the state goes in two directions. In Deleuze
and Guattari one finds a classically 'european' flight into the
aesthetic. In the 'California ideology' the delegitmisation of the
state results in a relegitimisation of the market. Both tend to 
posit a dialectical relationship of otherness between the state and
its other -- and that's what i'd like to overcome. In its place,
i think a more appropriate way of thinking is the 'geneaological'
tracing of the potential positive powers of any particular
assemblage of state-market actors. One way to think about this is
to return to an earlier moment in Deleuze's thought -- his pre-68
book on Hume. In an earlier netletter i wrote enough about that,
so i'll just say where it fits in. Deleuze sees Hume as useful
against the assumption that the state is just a negative limit on
liberty. Hume sees the state as a *process* of institutional
innovation, where each institution of state is supposed to negotiate
a way to make difference *work*, make it a productive assemblage,
rather than a dialectical conflict -- or worse -- state as supression
of all difference. 

Its true Hume's is not a critical theory. Its a productive, creative
one. Perhaps what one could add to it is an analysis of which
*particular* state institution no longer function, and what might
take their place. Its too big a leap to say that because a *particular*
state institution doesn't work too well (say, the school system)
that therefore *no* state institution can work, so the market
ought to be left to do everything. 

Perhaps an provisional, orienting ethic here might be to think of
a good state institution as one that contributes to the production
of the plane of immanence upon which forces and energies of difference
can self-organise themselves. The state can't run the economy, or
culture. But it can mark out certain referents, codes of conduct,
regularities, that make possible their creative evolution. 

What i've said in relation to dialectical thinking about state
versus market (Cali ideology) or state versus the aesthetic (post 68
D+G) applies also to dialectical thinking about state versus
technology -- which i think has a different history to those other
two stories. The massive debt that Silicon valley owes to one of
the biggest and best funded exercises in state-socialism is just too
obvious. What i find most interesting about the Cali ideology is
its almost hysterical denial of the military funded, university
based apparatus that made it all possible. Its actually more
enlightening and more fun to talk to people in the US intelligence
and military research community -- who are a lot more honest about
all this. One of the most interesting characters i met at 
Ars Electronica in '95 was the guy from DARPA, who talked about
Pentagon funded medical technology research. Anyway, this is really
a theme for another netletter -- on how the military-industrial
complex became the military-entertainment complex. Its not a story
about state and market, but about empire and technology. A quite
different geneaology is required.

In sum, i think everyone is partly right in this debate, to the 
extent that they look in some detail at the positive value of
the institutions they value, be they state or market. But i think
everyone is partly wrong in reifying the other side of the
debate into a 'bad other', which is then viewed as a dialectical
partner-in-combat. I also think that if one adds the 'globalisation'
theme into this, then one has to deal with changes in *scale*
in the way various institutions appear and can operate on the
ever expanding terrain of international communication and business.
That's one hell of a plane of immanence that's coming along,
out there!

McKenzie Wark
netletter #5
6th January 1997

__________________________________________
"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
http://www.mcs.mq.edu.au/~mwark
 -- McKenzie Wark 

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