Thursday, May 31, 2012

They Have Achieved Perfect Inversion

excerpts from: "A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus: Neoliberalism
and the Production of Subjectivity" by Jason Read

As Thomas Lemke argues, neoliberalism is a political project that attempts to create a social reality that it suggests already exists, stating that competition is the basis of social relations while fostering those same relations.The contemporary trend away from long term labor contracts, towards temporary and part-time labor, is not only an effective economic strategy, freeing corporations from contracts and the expensive commitments of health care and other benefits, it is an effective strategy of subjectification as well. It encourages workers to see themselves not as “workers” in a political sense, who have something to gain through solidarity and collective organization, but as “companies of one.” They become individuals for whom every action, from taking courses on a new computer software application to having their teeth whitened, can be considered an investment in human capital. As Eric Alliez and Michel Feher write: “Corporations’ massive recourse to subcontracting plays a fundamental role in this to the extent that it turns the workers’ desire for independence…into a ‘business spirit’ that meets capital’s growing need for satellites.” Neoliberalism is not simply an ideology in the pejorative sense of the term, or a belief that one could elect to have or not have, but is itself produced by strategies, tactics, and policies that create subjects of interest, locked in competition.

....Marx and neo-liberals agree that although classical economic theory examined the sphere of exchange, the market, it failed to enter the “hidden abode of production” examining how capital is produced. Of course the agreement ends there, because what Marx and neo-liberals find in labor is fundamentally different: for Marx labor is the sphere of exploitation while for the neo-liberals, as we have seen, labor is no sooner introduced as a problem than the difference between labor and capital is effaced through the theory of "human capital." Neoliberalism scrambles and exchanges the terms of opposition between “worker” and “capitalist.” To quote Etienne Balibar, “The capitalist is defined as worker, as an ‘entrepreneur’; the worker, as the bearer of a capacity, of a human capital.”

...Thus situating Marx and neoliberalism with respect to a similar problem makes it possible to grasp something of the politics of neoliberalism, which through a generalization of the idea of the “entrepreneur,” “investment” and “risk” beyond the realm of finance capital to every quotidian relation, effaces the very fact of exploitation. Neoliberalism can be considered a particular version of “capitalism without capitalism,” a way of maintaining not only private property but the existing distribution of wealth in capitalism while simultaneously doing away with the antagonism and social insecurity of capitalism, in this case paradoxically by extending capitalism, at least its symbols, terms, and logic, to all of society. The opposition between capitalist and worker has been effaced not by a transformation of the mode of
production, a new organization of the production and distribution of wealth, but by the mode of subjection, a new production of subjectivity. Thus, neoliberalism entails a very specific extension of the economy across all of society; it is not, as Marx argued, because everything rests on an economic base (at least in the last instance) that the effects of the economy are extended across of all of society, rather it is an economic perspective, that of the market, that becomes coextensive with all of society. As Christian Laval argues, all actions are seen to conform to the fundamental economic ideas of self-interest, of greatest benefit for least possible cost. It is not the structure of the economy that is extended across society but the subject of economic thinking, its implicit anthropology............

...For Brown, neoliberalism entails a massive de-democratization, as terms such as the public good, rights and debate, no longer have any meaning. “The model neoliberal citizen is one who strategizes for her or himself among various social, political, and economic options, not one who strives with others to alter or organize these options.”

...Thus, while it is possible to argue that neoliberalism is a more flexible, open form of power as opposed to the closed spaces of disciplines, a form of power that operates on freedoms, on a constitutive multiplicity, it is in some sense all the more closed in that as a form of governmentality, as a political rationality, it is without an outside. It does not encounter any tension with a competing logic of worker or citizen, with a different articulation of subjectivity. States, corporations, individuals are all governed by the same logic, that of interest and competition.

...Neo-liberalism can be countered. It is not enough to simply oppose neoliberalism as ideology, revealing the truth of social existence that it misses, or to enumerate its various failings as policy. Rather any opposition to neoliberalism must take seriously its effectiveness, the manner in which it has transformed work subjectivity and social relationships.

The reigning ideal of interest and the calculations of cost and benefit...... limit the sense of what is possible. Specifically the ideal of the fundamentally self-interested individual curtails any collective transformation of the conditions of existence. It is not that such actions are prohibited, restricted by the dictates of a sovereign or the structures of disciplinary power, they are not seen as possible, closed off by a society made up of self-interested individuals. It is perhaps no accident that one of the most famous political implementers of neoliberal reforms, Margaret Thatcher, used the slogan, “there is no alternative,” legitimating neoliberalism based on the stark absence of possibilities.

excerpted from:

A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus:
Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity
by Jason Read, The University of Southern Maine

 Jason Read 2009
Foucault Studies, No 6, pp. 25-36, February 2009