FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What’s So Great About Efficiency?

Early in the last century the Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci developed the idea of hegemony as a hidden ideology behind political, economic and cultural domination. What is understood by dominant cultures as straightforward explanation of the natural world, common sense in contemporary parlance is really, as Gramsci argued, the underlying ideological basis for domination. It isn’t the dominant culture that the dominated have a quarrel with under the hegemonic belief system, but rather the natural order of the world. The struggle against domination becomes a struggle against nature goes the hegemonic claim.

It is with no small irony that a century later academic economists at prestigious universities in the West claim that what they teach is a method to understand the will of nature, natural economic laws, rather than what appears once the mystification is removed as rank ideology. When the students of Harvard University economics Professor Greg Mankiw recently walked out of his introductory economics class to protest the narrow ideology being taught they left behind their dear professor proclaiming his innocence. As an economic advisor to governments including the George W. Bush administration, Professor Mankiw either knew that he had blood on his hands or he was publicly admitting that he was too stupid to know that he did. No third explanation is possible.

The reason why this is an argument that needs to be had in public is that Western academic economists have wielded power over the lives of billions of people without being held responsible for the outcomes of these policies. The Free Trade policies that Mr. Mankiw and his colleagues have developed, recommended and supported have caused economic dislocations that would be the envy of the most irresponsible of military strategists and they have accomplished them with a global efficiency that would make any twentieth century dictator blush with envy. How many of those affected by free trade policies were ever asked if they consented to their implementation? The answer is none.

The claim that Professor Mankiw makes (see his New York Times editorial responding to the student protest), but that is endemic to Western economics in general, is that his economics is a methodology rather than an ideology. But a methodology is a means of accomplishing a goal. Whose goals are accomplished with the methodology of his economics? Why would a generic methodology be better at accomplishing specific goals than specific methods? And most pressing to readers, why does a purported non-ideological methodology always come to such ideologically loaded conclusions—why are there winners and losers if in theory everyone benefits? And why are the winners always the already rich and powerful and the losers always the already marginalized?

The benefits of their policies that Western economists point to are always systemic, but where exactly does this system reside? It must reside outside of human existence because otherwise the specific nature of the purported gains and losses would be evident as a social struggle between the gainers and losers. The fact is that the policies of Western economists affect specific people and the claims of systemic benefits hide their motives behind the language of political neutrality. Professor Mankiw and his colleagues either know that they are paid hacks in the service of international capital or they are but they don’t know that they are. You decide which is worse.

The goal of economics always given by Western economists is to maximize economic efficiency. Who could object to getting the most out of society’s economic efforts? If free trade agreements drive a few million peasants from their land through the destruction of their indigenous economies, don’t a few capitalists getting rich from hiring the newly “freed” labor that results mean that efficiency has been served? Lest one think this tale improbable, take a look at Mexico following implementation of NAFTA. If capital is globally mobile while labor is embedded within national boundaries, linguistic and cultural difference and the accoutrement of complex social life, how do economic models that assume that none of this embedding has economic content maximize anything?

Another smokescreen offered by Western economists is that their economics is evidence based. What they mean is that they choose the methods that support their economic claims. How many victims of their intellectual largesse have they ever interviewed? In fact, the statistical methods that they use are ideologically embedded at the core of Western hegemony. I refer readers to the ontological issues discussed in Edmund Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences and Martin Heidegger’s response in History of the Concept of Time and less straightforwardly in Being and Time.

The point here is that the statistical methods used by Western economists to support their claims are hegemonic in the same way that their economics are. Alternatively, if the statistical methods are non-ideological and the economics they are used to support are non-ideological, both being “methods,” then who sets the goals of these methods and how do they escape the taint of ideology? Is capitalism only a method also?

Lastly, to the protesting students, this piece results from a conversation that I had with fellow arrestees and cellmates from the Occupy Wall Street protests at the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1st. The Harvard protest came later but these ideas are in the air. The advice given me in the days of Vietnam War was to skip school and educate myself. I pass that advice along for what it is worth. And the “better” the school is that you are attending, the more relevant it is.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.

More articles by:

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail