Thursday, March 04, 2010

"a bad planet"

Economists have sought to develop a science of economic effects, and because there generally isn't a ready terminology for classifying these effects, they tend to be named after other economists; for instance, the effect by which the value of savings is altered by a change in prices is called the Pigou effect, after Arthur Pigou.

It might be appropriate, therefore, to name the effect whereby social insanity is rendered invisible by the surface appearance of technical competence after former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: "the Greenspan effect".

Greenspan certainly wasn't insane himself, he merely entertained some kooky ideas, but it was crazy to appoint him to such a position, taking into account the interests of American capital, or the American public.

It's interesting that for a long time Greenspan was viewed as a sober technocrat, with a harmless private interest in Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, while subsequent events have demonstrated that he was a confirmed crank who should never have been given such high office. Perhaps in a more rational society Greenspan could have been in charge of the White House stationary budget, but not the Federal Reserve!

At the risk of jeopardising any future career in the banking sector of the British Socialist Federal Republic, I might suggest that the invisibility of Greenspan's eccentricities followed from the technical success, at least in relative terms, of the neoliberal ideology for local managers and bureaucrats, and that it was thought that the success of the ideology at this "common" level implied that it worked at a higher "celestial" level. There was no celestial level, but such is neoliberalism.

These unproven conjectures, running along their own course. can be followed in the opposite diretion, so that correct ideas can be invalidated on account of disharmony with current practice, as much as false ideas can be validated insofar as they are in harmony with this practice. This is what occured to me when I read these comments from the new paper of record, on the subject of Peter Hallward's article in the Guardian about the historical background to the disaster in Haiti.

Perhaps some of the readers of this newspaper imagine that an editorial by a university professor ought to be something like the celestial reflection of a reasonable person's common sense ideas. Hallward is taken to task for writing a piece that isn't consonant with the readers' ordinary experience. The celestiality of Hallward's article is granted, but its genesis and consequences can only be bad, because it sits badly with ordinary experience. Peter Hallward, or perhaps Middlesex University as a whole, appears as a sort of bad planet, interfering with the organisation of things.

A consequence of this way of looking at things is that it might appear that the defence of the victims of the Haitian earthquake ought to involve, in addition to direct aid, defending them from the malign influence of Britain's bourgeois left.

Actually, this attitude does neither any favours. What it defends is the right of Haitians to a thorough British ignorance of Haitian history and politics. But they are necessarily already acutely aware of these things; their innocence does not need to be protected. Haiti is a very polarised society, and different groups might give different answers as to whether or not President Aristide's deposition was a good thing, but the facts aren't really controversial.

So, the British newspaper reader might imagine that Hallward's methodology and political tendency is foreign to Haiti, and as such represents a baleful influence. In fact, Hallward's article is methodologically orthodox, fairly representatitive of majority Haitian opinion i.e. the ideas of the L'Espwa and former Lavalas voters, and decidedly uninfluential for Haitians in Haiti.

If the past thirty years has been characterised by the exploitation of third world countries, facilitated through ostensibly neutral, purely technical, institutions: IMF, World Bank, UN - the institutional reflection of the Washington consensus - this process finds a ready ally in a western popular culture that views third world nations as unruly children: devoid of knowledge and experience, given to episodes of violent temper, requiring instruction.

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