Beyond national capitalism? from The Memory Bank by keith
My talk makes a number of points that can only be sketched briefly in twenty minutes. 1. Humanity is caught between national and world society. This is both dangerous and an opportunity for us. Yet much of what has been presented here has assumed that we can safely talk about the United States in isolation from [...]
Money is the principal means for us all to bridge the gap between everyday personal experience and a society whose wider reaches are impersonal. As a token of society, money must be impersonal in order to connect individuals to the universe of relations to which they belong. But people make everything personal, including their relations with society. Money in capitalist societies stands for alienation, detachment, impersonal society, the outside; its origins lie beyond our control (the market). Relations marked by the absence of money are the model of personal integration and free association, of what we take to be familiar, the inside (home). This institutional dualism, forcing individuals to divide themselves every day, asks too much of us. People want to integrate division, to make some meaningful connection between their own subjectivity and society as an object. It helps that money, as well as being the means of separating public and domestic life, was always the main bridge between the two. That is why money must be central to any attempt to humanize society. It is both the principal source of our vulnerability in society and the main practical symbol allowing each of us to make an impersonal world meaningful.
If the proliferation of personal credit today could be seen as a step towards greater humanism in economy, this also entails increased dependence on impersonal governments and corporations, on impersonal abstraction of the sort associated with computing operations and on impersonal standards and social guarantees for contractual exchange. If persons are to make a comeback in the post-modern economy, it will be less on a face-to-face basis than as bits on a screen who sometimes materialize as living people in the present. We may become less weighed down by money as an objective force, more open to the idea that it is a way of keeping track of complex social networks that we each generate. Then money could take a variety of forms compatible with both personal agency and human interdependence at every level from the local to the global.
The reality of markets is not just universal abstraction, but this mutual determination of the abstract and the concrete. If you have some money, there is almost no limit to what you can do with it, but, as soon as you buy something, the act of payment lends concrete finality to your choice. Money’s significance thus lies in the synthesis it promotes of impersonal abstraction and personal meaning, objectification and subjectivity, analytical reason and synthetic narrative. Its social power comes from the fluency of its mediation between infinite potential and finite determination. To turn our backs on markets and money in the name of collective as opposed to individual interests reproduces by negation the bourgeois separation of self and society. It is not enough to emphasize the controls that people already impose on money and exchange as part of their personal practice. That is the everyday world as most of us know it. We also need ways of reaching the parts of the macro-economy that we don’t know, if we wish to avert the ruin they could bring down on us all. This was what Simmel had in mind when he said that money is the concrete symbol of our human potential to make universal society. [...]
There is an enduring tension between the closure of territorial rule and the universality of money. This has been magnified by the dominance of impersonal society in national capitalism. The forces for a democratic alternative, based on more directly personal relations to society, have been building up for decades and now face much weaker opposition from the Old Regime. I do not say a new liberal revolution will succeed; but I know which side I am on. Talk given at the Financial Crisis Conference, University of Chicago, 10th April 2009, panel After the crisis: re-imagining the economy with Eugene Fama and James Galbraith, chair/discussant Moishe Postone.