Wednesday, September 22, 2010

naïve and sentimental agencies of control

Toward the end of his Confessions of an English Opium Eater, De Quincey discusses a pamphlet he tried to put together about Ricardo's economics. I remembered this story, wrongly as it turns out, as being about how De Quincey tried to apply some sort of method from German Idealism, or some kind of drug wizardry, to perfect Ricardo's system. Actually, De Quincey says his ideas could be expressed with algebra. I understand De Quincey's essay was published with his collected works, so maybe I should check it out.

It might be that the amazing aridity of Ricardo's prose contributed to his book's success, because it invited amateur literateurs to feel they could improve on Ricardo's arguments. People today might reasonably argue that Marx really did apply the wizardry of German Idealism, specifically Hegel's philosophy, to Ricardo, even if De Quincey didn't.

But a better marriage might be made between Ricardo's (actually Malthus's) theory of rent and Schiller's theory of naïve and sentimental art.

The theory of rent effectively hypostises -

naïve and sentimental agencies of control.

Capitalist production ought to have a sentimental agency of control, because the capitalist ought to be able to alter his level of production, methods and inputs to maximise his profit. Ricardo argues that rent should also have a sentimental agency of control, because it's against the landowner's interest to fail to rent his land by demanding an excessive rent that cannot be paid. This counterexample of a landowner trying to impose an unpayable rent is an example of a naïve agency of control. Basically, sentimental agencies are good, in the way economics thinks things are good, and naïve agencies are bad.

With these categories, we can easily state the point of neoliberal economics, which is to replace all naïve agencies of control with sentimental agencies of control. Ricardo insists that rent is always subject to a sentimental agency of control, but this isn't necessarily true, as anyone who's noticed the thousands of empty flats in this country will attest. Neoliberal economists are very keen on the theme of the governments naïvety: its subjection of taxation to a naïve agency of control. But the naïvety or sentimentality of the three main forms of claims on the productive economy ought to be considered together:

property - property income (rent)
banking - inflation
government - taxation

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