Thursday, October 8, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Nine

• American neo-liberalism had become a hot topic in France by the late 1970s. Foucault sees key contextual differences between The United States and Germany (and France) as being:
1. It emerges as a reaction to the Keynesian policies of Roosevelt and the New Deal, from about 1934;
2. The policies of economic and social intervention are motivated in the U.S., as in Britain, not just by Keynesian economics, but by the need to provide security to those who had engaged in the war effort;
3. Growth in social programs was a theme of U.S. governments from the 1930s to the 1960s – Kennedy/Johnson “Great Society” programs.

• Bigger contextual differences in the U.S. case:
1. American liberalism was not a reaction to raison d’Etat, as in France, but was a founding doctrine of American independence and is therefore central to the legitimacy of the state – ‘The demand for liberalism founds the state rather than the state limiting itself through liberalism’ (p. 217)
2. Liberalism is therefore a recurring theme of American political debate;
3. Interventionist government policies therefore appear as non-liberal and somehow illegitimate and socialistic – they are therefore critiqued by the left as well as the right, with the left seeing the interventionist state as being tied to militarism and imperialism.

• ‘Liberalism in America … is a type of relation between the governors and the governed much more than a technique of governors with regard to the governed … whereas in a country like France disputes between individuals and the state turn on the problem of service, of public service, in the United States disputes between individuals and government look like the problem of freedoms’ (p. 218)

• It is therefore in the U.S. that writers such as von Hayek look to liberalism as not simply an alternative to state socialism or a technical alternative for government, but as generating utopian possibilities.

• The theory of human capital emerges from American neo-liberal economic thought (Theodore Schultz, Gary Becker, Jacob Mincer). It seeks to analyse labour itself, whereas classical political economy had little to say about the supply of labour, as compared to its employment by capital.

• ‘The neo-liberals practically never argue with Marx for reasons that we may think are to do with economic snobbery’ (p. 220) – their difference form Marx would revolve around the perception that the “abstraction” of labour is less the result of how it is subsumed within capital at the point of production, but rather because classical economics set its limit-point of analysis at the study of labour itself.

• The question being asked is not about the price of labour (wages), its uses (employment), or the value that it adds and who receives it (profit), but rather how the person who works makes choices between competing ends about how they develop their “human capital” in order to receive wages for undertaking work.

• Labour from the point of view of the worker can be decomposed between its capital (skills, ability, training etc.) and its income (earnings streams over time). ‘If capital is defined as that which makes a future income possible, this income being a wage, then you can see that it is a capital which in practical terms is inseparable from the person who possesses it. To that extent it is not like other capital. Ability to work, skill, the ability to do something cannot be separated from the person who is skilled and who can do this particular thing.’ (p. 224)

Homo economicus becomes not simply the partner of exchange as in classical liberal economics, but is ‘an entrepreneur of himself’ (p. 226). Consumption becomes production of satisfaction – this is not an individual who is alienated from either production or consumer society.

• Human capital is formed through:
1. Genetics – economic theory of marriage, the family, and children;
2. Parenting and socialization;
3. Educational investment;
4. Mobility and migration – psychological as well as material costs of moving necessitate some form of economic return.

Key move in development economics from the 1960s onwards was to link economic growth to education through investments in human capital.

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