Thursday, October 22, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Ten

• Paradoxes of German neoliberalism (Ordoliberalism):
o How to maintain “light” regulation that dies not act directly upon the market but only in favour of promoting the economic process?
o How to address the tension inherent in generalizing the enterprise form to balance the promotion of “warm” moral and cultural values with the “cold” mechanisms of competition?

• ‘The return to the enterprise is therefore at once an economic policy or a policy of the economisation of the entire social field, of an extension of the economy to the entire social field, but at the same time a policy which presents itself or seeks to e a kind of Vitalpolitik with the function of compensating for what is cold, impassive, calculating, rational, and mechanical in the strictly economic game of competition. The enterprise society imagined by the ordoliberals is therefore a society for the market and a society against the market, a society oriented towards the market and a society that compensates for the effects of the market in the realms of values and existence.’ (p. 242)

• American neo-liberalism is more radical than German ordoliberalism in that it involves ‘the generalization of the economic form of the market … throughout the social body and including the whole of the social system not usually conducted through or sanctioned by monetary exchanges’ (p. 243)

• The generalization of the economic form of the market beyond the realm of monetary exchanges functions as a ‘principle of intelligibility and a principle of decipherment of social relationships and individual behaviour’ for American neo-liberalism (p. 243) – examples include thinking about child-rearing in terms of human capital, and marriage in terms of a contract to manage transaction costs

• The second major use of the economic form in American neo-liberalism is to subject government action to endless scrutiny of costs and benefits ‘a permanent criticism of governmental policy’ based upon “economic positivism”, and pursued by institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute, whose history actually precedes the Chicago School (p. 247)

• This analysis of non-economic behaviour through a grid of economic intelligibility and the critique of public authorities in market terms can be seen in the account developed of crime and criminal justice by Gary Becker, George Stigler and others. They develop a transaction cost account of crime and punishment where it is the ratio of costs and benefits from the point of view of both the individual and the society that serve as the anchor-points for appraising the penal justice system, as distinct from the ‘anthropology of crime’ that has been developing since the 19th century, with its focus upon the criminal subject and his/her social environment – homo economicus as compared to homo criminalis. While this appears trite and banal (‘a crime is that for which a punishment exists if one is caught’), it reverts back to earlier conceptions of the management of penal justice by classical liberals such as Bentham and Beccaria.

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