Sunday, 4 June 2017

Economic rationalism in Canberra (1992)

Twenty five years on, I've been reading Michael Pusey's book above at last. Course everyone talked about it when it came out, and I picked up some of the ideas, but this is the first time I've read.

Wish I had read it then. It's still pretty topical though. Here are some of my notes:

The economic rationalists in Canberra saw "the system" as a market economy and society as its environment (p 200) "in terms that relegate society (if such a thing exists at all) to just another dimension of the biosphere"

Pusey is not making a feminist analysis (although he acknowledges this possibility on p 202: "Women will say, with some reason, that it is a patriarchal and therefore a hierarchical family ....[of] members ... engaged in their work of demoralising and depoliticising all those residues of social life ... that have yet to be absorbed into the system")

- but his description fits wellvwith the insights of ecofeminists such as Carolyn Merchant, and mirrors the attitudes of 17thC enlightenment 'men of science' who saw themselves as superior to the subordinate sphere of 'nature' and unpaid caring work, and also the lower orders who provided the labour force for emerging capitalism

Women now move back and forth between the world of unpaid caring and the world of paid work, where, like less educated or racially 'othered' men, they are more likely to provide the 'workforce' than the 'management'. This is often thought to be a recent development but in fact the idea of women as a subordinate, 'reserve' or lower paid workforce is historically quite old.

Pusey goes on to say that for the economic rationalists: "In fact, the whole of society has become a generic 'externality' ... " (p 200). He refers to Luhmann's view of systems which are closed, self-referential and " 'autopoietic' " p 201

For the economic rationalists "society per se is incoherent and it is therefore dependent on an extrinsic economic logic of coherence (formal exchange through the market)" (p 201)

... [and]

"rationality" becomes "reducing an ever broader array of 'material uncertainties' to the purely formal and self-referential logic of money" (p 201-2)

Refers to "new scientism" on p 203

Talks about "homology with the " 'military mind' " and "strategy" against the opponent,  which is society, on p 204

Though later in this section he later discusses assumptions about how society is "reproduced" on p 204, without discussing reproduction as procreation! (Not much feminist consciousness there)

It reminds me of a radio program I heard years ago when someone (I wish I could remember who it was) was psychoanalysing economic rationalism as being like the theories of a teenage boy, who is just beginning to realise how emotionally complicated and risky the adult world is, and wants to reduce it all to something simple with no emotional risk (I'm probably not doing it justice).

Well better finish it now. Very interesting analysis.

I wonder if there has been much feminist analysis of economic rationalism (or neoclassical economics, or neoliberalism, which all seem to be descriptions for the same thing, although neoliberalism is s broader term)? It seems so much like a reaction against the achievements of feminism in the 1970s and 80s (eg anti discrimination acts) but I don't think I've ever seen it analysed that way.

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