Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

For a general discussion of topics relating broadly to power and political economy (e.g., capital-as-power, Marxism, neo-classical economics, institutionalism).

Moderator: sanha926

Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Jonathan Nitzan » Sat Mar 09, 2019 4:47 pm

The comments below were posted by an anonymous 'Ikonoclast' on John Quiggin's website (February 13-14, 2019).

Quiggin' site: https://johnquiggin.com/2019/02/12/the-culture-of-financialised-capitalism/
BNArchives page: http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/586/

***

“Capital as power: Toward a new cosmology of capitalism” – Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue61/BichlerNitzan61.pdf

Perhaps people should read that paper, of only 20 pages or so, before reading on below.

Here is a key quote from the paper:

“Political economy, liberal as well as Marxist, stands on three key foundations: (I) a separation between economics and politics; (II) a Gal-ilean/Cartesian/Newtonian mechanical understanding of the economy; and (III) a value theory that breaks the economy into two spheres – real and nominal – and that uses the quantities of the real sphere to ex-plain the appearances of the nominal one.”

I think Bichler and Nitzan are on the right track in a number of ways but I still do have some key disagreements with them. To illustrate these disagreements I will re-write the statement above in what I regard as the more correct form.

“Conventional economics stands on three key foundations: (I) a separation between economics and politics; (II) a Cartesian/Newtonian mechanical understanding of the economy; and (III) a value theory that breaks the economy into two spheres – real and nominal – that uses the quantities of the real sphere to explain the appearances of the nominal one (ideological justification) and that then uses the quantities of the nominal sphere to manage those of the real sphere (as an instrumental, formalised reason system for the purpose of deriving, in a sense, quantised values for the real).”

To explain these changes;

(I) By definition, political economy does not separate economics and politics. Even using the original definition of political economy which meant national economy, the operations of government and politics are implicit in the definition. It is conventional economics which artificially separates the complexly conjoined, but far from identical, “twin” spheres of politics and economics. Political economy in general and Marxism in particular attempt to deal with the entire twinned system. This is not to say that any existing form of political economy, including Marxism, has fully investigated and properly explicated the “cosmology” of this twinned system. Indeed, they have not.

(II) This point is clearer if only Cartesian-ism and Newtonian mechanics (classical physics) are mentioned. The issue with Cartesian-ism is (sub-stance) dualism which is very arguably a fallacious metaphysics and ontology. The argument is a long one of which more later, at another time. Suffice it to say here that modern physics and complex system science lend weight to the stance of a form of Priority Monism which we might term Complex System Monism where the whole known system (the cosmos) is prior to its parts. Its “parts” in turn are sub-systems which can include, or rather exhibit, emergent and evolutionary complexity. The problem with taking the viewpoint of Newtonian mechanistic physics (and the mathematics which goes with it) is in the very application of mechanistic science (and maths) to complex emergent and evolutionary systems. Conventional economics remains, for the most part, mired in mechanistic and deterministic models. These are wholly inadequate for complex emergent and evolutionary systems.

(III) It is true that conventional (classical) value theory, even Marxist value theory, breaks the economy into two spheres – real and nominal. However, classical theory is not quite so bereft of analytical and pragmatic use in this arena as is suggested by Bichler and Nitzan. The market, however constituted and however imperfect, is the social and economic instrument of measurement of real value in nominally comparable value terms. How good, representative, true or useful the nominally comparable value terms are is another question. Individual humans, as agents, are the agent-actuators of the collective instrument that is the market. The market is a collective and cooperative instrument that is used for the competitive game or rather the pseudo-competitive quasi-rigged game of market economics. This fits within the theory of cooperative-competitive games. Of course, it is still possible, at least in theory, that we could find a better instrument than the market. It is also possible that we might not.

Breaking the world into real and nominal spheres (or sometimes real and virtual spheres) is something we humans do all the time. It is not unique to classical economics. Every ideational system, every mathematical system is a model or map (in nominal or formal form) of the real world. Every interaction of a human agent (a human being) with the real world (the physical or material external world in substance philosophy terms) is mediated and managed by our mental models. Even our sensory data is modeled in the brain into a virtual representation (in the brain) of all that which we sense. This virtual representation is a model or a set of models. Modelling is the way, the entire way, in which the human agent (the human person) interacts with the world in any purposive, endogenously directed fashion: modeling and modeling only.

In the above sense, the broad agent model of modern economics is not wrong, not misconceived. We model values and we build cooperative-competitive instruments (markets) to collectively model economic values as a community. There are of course other ways to model values from religion to moral philosophy to science (oftentimes these are widely differing kinds of values of course).

However the representative agent model is wrong or inadequate in two specific ways. Individual agents (humans) are dissimilar enough, because of their internal complexity and complexities of their individu-al histories of socialisation, that they cannot be validly aggregated in many ways. Also, the representative agent model takes no proper cognizance of emergent behaviors.

Where all this ontological investigation and theorising gets us is not clear at this stage. The investigation, theory and testable theories (hopefully) would have to be carried on and developed. But certainly it is necessary to return to ontology (what is real, how it is real and how do these real things or real processes interact?) before we solve (partially but more than so far solved) the “wicked” problem of economics, or rather of political economy.

My main criticism of conventional economics and even of Marxism and Capital as Power theorising is that they are all too incomplete and none of them has yet developed a consistent and supportable ontolo-gy. They can never be completed of course but surely they can be ex-tended further than their current development. The way to do this is to return to ontology as I say. If we don’t get the basic ontology right we will get nothing else right.

***

[. . .] I think Bichler and Nitzan’s approach is very interesting and useful. I am however a little puzzled by their rigid insistence that “Capital-ism is not a mode of production. It’s a mode of power.”

To me, it is clear that capitalism is both a mode of production and a mode of power. The extensive fact is that both activities are intrinsic to its overall operations. Imagine we asked a question about bees. Are bees producers of honey or pollinators of flowers? The answer is that they are both. Both functions are intrinsic to their overall activities. One activity is an intermediate goal (the final goal being feeding young for reproduction purposes) and the other activity produces a byproduct service from the point of view of wider ecology. A person may focus on the study of one activity or the other but a study focus should not mean that one overlooks the wider system embedded nature of the activity or process being studied.

I suspect the issue is really a definitional one. If one defines, or at least closely identifies, capitalism with the operations of financial capital then capital itself will appear as a mode of power. But it is only the proximal source of power. Ownership, symbolically signified and proved at law by possession of nominal quantities (shares and dollars), is the legitimation for manipulating real quantities. Ownership in turn is backed by state laws and the state’s monopoly on violence. Violence, real, implicit or threatened, is always the final underwriter of (political and biological) power.

In one important way, Bichler and Nitzan follow Veblen in dividing economic activity into industry (actual production) and business (buying, selling, manipulating and even sabotaging industry). This too is a useful way of looking at things. These different methods of looking at capitalism are prisms to view it through. They split capitalism up in different ways into different apparent constituent components. But after all reductionist analysis, the key is to put a model of the whole system back together conceptually. This is the most difficult task and perhaps even impossible for a truly complex system.

One component of capitalism which must not be forgotten is the state. The state too is a component of capitalism and (paradoxically perhaps) statist activity heavily underwrites oligarchic capitalism. The rule of (capitalist-favouring) law, backed by the state’s monopoly on violence, is a key component of capitalism. State subsidies also underwrite capitalism, or a least our current form of capitalism. Most successful, established, capital intensive industries, even when in private hands, are heavily underwritten by state subsidies. We only have to look at fossil fuels (massive subsidies), industrial agriculture (massive subsidies), banks (massive subsidies), armaments production (massive subsidies). This conformation of state activity to the interests of large capitalist holdings (big government to big business) probably explains why China finally made the transition to “statist capitalism” so easily. It’s a natural fit under the current system.
Attachments
mechanical_head.gif
mechanical_head.gif (919.37 KiB) Viewed 1348 times
Jonathan Nitzan
 
Posts: 79
Joined: Sat Dec 06, 2008 2:39 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Jonathan Nitzan » Sat Mar 16, 2019 8:21 pm

Due to a problem with Forum registration, ikonoclast has been unable to post here. I take the liberty of uploading his March 10, 2019 follow-up comment from John Quiggin's site here:

https://johnquiggin.com/2019/02/12/the- ... ent-206210

***

ikonoclast's follow-up comment

On the slight chance Jonathan Nitzan checks back here, I haven’t been able to register on his site’s forum yet. It seems reCAPTCHYA V1 is shut down.

I feel I have to apologize to Jonathan Nitzan and his readers for a very poorly written blog piece. My ideas are not made at all clear. My apparent claim in that post that I bring new insights to the table looks rather threadbare upon review, at least in that screed. I used a lot of words to say very little.

I’m taking a metaphysical approach, from first principles as it were, in an effort to find a shared ontology for the Hard and Social Sciences. This is clearly a different approach, or at least an approach from a different direction, compared to the methods of CasP. However, what struck me was our shared judgement that orthodox economics commences with Cartesian Dualist and Classical Physics reductionist and mechanistic a priori assumptions. Whenever the Social Sciences commence with these a prioris, they have already taken a wrong turn, in my opinion.

Just briefly, what is it which separates the hard and social sciences? Traditionally, it is considered to be the divide between objectivity and subjectivity. Despite at times sharing some scientific methods and statistical techniques with hard science, albeit with less scope to abstract objective quantitative data, the social sciences tend still to offer explanations predicated on the assumption of a substance difference between conscious or mind systems and physical systems.

This clearly introduces the connection problem, or as I call it, the transmission problem. I refer here to the transmitting of matter, energy and information between real systems, including minds and formal systems instantiated in real systems, which is the only place formal systems are instantiated according to my development of monist ontology. Formal systems are there instantiated (in some real systems) as patterns which can influence other patterns. Clearly, this then leads on to aspects of information theory. Humans (human agents) perform the role of encoders, decoders, translators and transformers of the information in these patterns.

Assuming a substance difference between conscious or mind systems and physical systems leads on to assuming the “wrong kind of difference” between rational formal systems and real systems. The difference assumed essentially entails assuming that consciousness, rationality and formal systems “come from somewhere else” other than from processes emergent from the monistic complex system of existence itself. An a priori epistemological rift or schism is placed between matter and consciousness or its rational ideations, which then presupposes that explanations, connections and causes cannot “chain up” or “link up” in the emergent and evolutionary sense from the phenomena of the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology). Emergence and searches for emergence-conditioned explanations perforce are excluded where Social Science adopts dualist, reductionist and mechanistic assumptions. Orthodox economics seems to be particularly beset by this limitation and it probably suits a number of justificatory ideologies to keep it that way.

I am not claiming this approach or set of insights are unique. I’m not in a position to assess this as I work alone on this project in an autodidact fashion and am quite unconnected with academia. Also, it is not clear that this approach will lead anywhere pragmatically useful. It is all rather theoretical and metaphysical. Plus, it is probably extensively covered already in the academic world in manners quite unlike my idiosyncratic approach. If it is, then the news has not reached orthodox economics, or at least not the dominant, bowdlerized and ideology-ridden form known as neoclassical economics.
Jonathan Nitzan
 
Posts: 79
Joined: Sat Dec 06, 2008 2:39 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Jonathan Nitzan » Wed Mar 20, 2019 8:05 am

The following comments pertain to Ikonoclast’s text from March 9, 2019.

Ikonoclast:
By definition, political economy does not separate economics and politics.

Bichler & Nitzan:

As we see it, political economy, both neoclassical and classical (including Marx’s), examines the interaction between politics and economics. In Marxism, politics is generally seen as supportive of the capitalist economy, whereas in neoclassical political economy, politics is said to undermine the economy. The very existence of these interactions presupposes that economics and politics, although interrelated, are fundamentally distinct.

This presupposition is perhaps the most important ‘proprietary innovation’ of classical-liberal political economy. Speaking for the rising bourgeoisie, classicists from Locke and Smith onward insisted that the voluntary-utilitarian relationships of the market (or ‘civil society’ as they called it) be freed from the hierarchical-coercive relationship of politics and state.

In the late nineteenth century, neoclassical writers turned this emancipatory demand into a rigid theoretical prerequisite. The primordial ‘market’, they insisted, is theoretically autonomous from any outside intervention, and this autonomy means that politics and power, although occasionally present, are merely external distortions of an otherwise pristine ‘economic’ phenomenon.

Marx’s analysis, although very different in substance, was similarly bifurcated into economics and politics. The underlying process of capital accumulation, Marx argued, occurred at the material economic ‘base’ of labour, production, technical change and class, while the justification, legitimation and enforcement of this process was affected through the political, legal, ideological and cultural ‘superstructure’ dominated by the state.

Although political economists rarely emphasize it (and many vehemently deny it), the economic-politics duality continues to inform – and in our view remains essential to – the building blocks and foundational categories of both neoclassical and Marxist analyses.

Take capital. As far as we can tell, all political economists conceive, theorize and (pretend to) measure its accumulation as an ‘economic’ process denominated either in socially necessary abstract labour time, or SNALT (the elementary particle of the Marxists), or in ‘utils’ (the basic atom of the neoclassicists). And as far as we know, all political economists view politics, politicians and policymakers as ‘intervening’, positively or negatively, in this process. (Out of respect for our intelligent reader, we ignore here the fashionable nonsense of conjuring up new forms of capital – from the ‘natural’, to the ‘social’, to the ‘cultural’, ‘intellectual’, ‘experiential’ and ‘spiritual’, among others.)

Or take the state. The early twentieth-century rise of ‘big government’ and ‘economic policy’ made it difficult to view this institution as a mere ‘political entity’. With direct spending by post-war capitalist governments typically accounting for 20-50 per cent of all ‘economic’ activity, and with so-called ‘policy interventions’ affecting pretty much everything else, it is hard to see where politics begins and economics ends. And given that the modern state ‘infects’ and ‘distorts’ every dollar in the economy, it is now a real challenge to identify a single economic realm where the assumptions of neoclassical theory have any purchase.

During the early twentieth century, these conceptual difficulties contributed to the rise of neo-Marxism, which unlike its classical predecessor is no longer comfortable with the traditional separation between state and capital, power and production and politics and economics. Debates over which activity belongs to which sphere remain heated. Renegade Henri Lefebvre, for example, was expelled from the Communist party for daring to reclassify the city as part of the ‘economic base’, while opportunist Louis Althusser managed to get away with claiming that ideology, although produced by the state, is nonetheless part of the economic base. These ‘territorial’ squabbles have since expanded to other academic disciplines, such as culture, gender and race, and their very continuation proves that the fundamental separation of politics from economics is alive and kicking.

For more on these issues, see:

[1] Nitzan, Jonathan, and Shimshon Bichler. 2009. Capital as Power. A Study of Order and Creorder. RIPE Series in Global Political Economy. New York and London: Routledge, Ch. 2. http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/259/

[2] Bichler, Shimshon, Jonathan Nitzan, and Piotr Dutkiewicz. 2013. Capitalism as a Mode of Power: Piotr Dutkiewicz in Conversation with Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan. In 22 Ideas to Fix the World: Conversations with the World's Foremost Thinkers, edited by P. Dutkiewicz and R. Sakwa. New York: New York University Press and the Social Science Research Council, pp. 326-354. http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/372/

Ikonoclast:
Conventional economics remains, for the most part, mired in mechanistic and deterministic models. These are wholly inadequate for complex emergent and evolutionary systems.

Bichler & Nitzan:

It seems to us that not only conventional economics, but Marxism too is mired in mechanistic and deterministic models. Marx’s dialectics proposed to break this determinism, but in practice, his ‘laws of motion’, and particularly his model of accumulation, tended to reproduce it.

Neo-Marxists – for example, those associated with the Frankfurt School – have tried to augment this determinism with various ‘subjective’ elements, but these attempts have proven difficult to implement – if only because Marxism (and the positive social sciences more generally) originated from and remain part of the modern mechanical worldview. The real contestation of mechanical determinism is associated with existentialists and post-modern precursors like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

Ikonoclast:
Every ideational system, every mathematical system is a model or map (in nominal or formal form) of the real world…. The market, however constituted and however imperfect, is the social and economic instrument of measurement of real value in nominally comparable value terms.

Bichler & Nitzan:

Ulf Martin’s 2018 paper ‘The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery’ [1] distinguishes ontological symbols that represent reality from operational symbols that construct reality. Conventional political economy tends to use the former, whereas CasP strives to develop the latter.

In conventional political economy, theory (nomos) is a map to a territory (phusis): the territory is the ‘real’ sphere of the economy; this territory is believed to have its own fundamental quantities (SNALT and utils); and these fundamental quantities (measured in ‘real’ magnitudes) are said to map onto and be represented by the quantities of the nominal sphere (money prices). In our work we referred to this correspondence as the ‘quantitative equivalence’ of political economy.

20190320_nominal_real_01.png
20190320_nominal_real_01.png (823.81 KiB) Viewed 1156 times

In our view, the problem with this quantitative equivalence is that its ‘real’ (ontological?) quantities of SNALT and utils are fictitious. Unlike the so-called fundamental quantities of physics, they are logically inconsistent and empirically unidentifiable, meaning that there is really nothing to map onto nominal prices.

In CasP, nominal prices do not reflect an independent ontology of ‘real quantities’; instead, they creorder the capitalist reality through the operational symbols of the capitalization ritual.

[1] Martin, Ulf. 2018. The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery (version 0.12). Working Papers on Capital as Power (2018/04, June): 1-20 http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/544/

Ikonoclast:
I am however a little puzzled by their rigid insistence that ‘Capitalism is not a mode of production. It’s a mode of power.’ To me, it is clear that capitalism is both a mode of production and a mode of power.

Bichler & Nitzan:

Our claim that capitalism is not a mode of production and consumption but a mode of power does not mean that production and consumption are unimportant, but rather that the significance of production and consumption should be understood through the lens of capitalized power.

Topologically, this view simply reverses the theoretical priorities of conventional political economy. In conventional political economy, power either distorts the mode of production and consumption (neoclassical) or supports it (Marxist). CasP inverts this order, arguing that we should examine production and consumptions as negative/positive dimensions of capitalized power.
Jonathan Nitzan
 
Posts: 79
Joined: Sat Dec 06, 2008 2:39 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Ikonoclast » Thu Mar 28, 2019 6:46 pm

This is basically a test to see if my logon access is working now. Following Jonathan Nitzan's reply I realised I needed to understand a lot more about CasP before I wrote again. So, I have gone back to carefully read Capital as power:Toward a new cosmology of capitalism" by Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan. I will return soon enough with questions and maybe some thoughts. Overall, the project makes a lot of sense to me but I am not without questions of course.
Ikonoclast
 
Posts: 27
Joined: Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Ikonoclast » Sat Mar 30, 2019 5:03 pm

I am not sure of the extent of CasP's rejection of Cartesianism. Does it extend only to rejecting Cartesianism as per Otto Neurath's views re Pseudorationalism?

If I may use Wikipedia as a reasonable source here:

"Neurath considered that "pseudo-rationalists", be they philosophers or scientists, made the mistake of assuming that a complete rational system could be devised for the laws of nature. He argued rather that no system could be complete, being based upon a picture of reality that could only ever be incomplete and imperfect. Pseudo-rationalism, in Neurath's view, was a refusal or simple inability to face up to the limits of rationality and reason." - Wikipedia.

OR, does CasP's rejection of Cartesianism extend to a rejection of Cartesian dualism? In other words, does the CasP project base its ontology on Monism and specifically in Priority Monism? I ask this leading question because in my view CasP would best maintain ontological consistency in the context of having adopted a Priority Monism ontological frame.

To sketch out a strict Priority Monist ontology consistent with science, the key interdependent concepts of Complex System Monism (CSM) as a coherent metaphysical system within empirical philosophy would be:

A. THE COMPLEX REAL SYSTEM

All-existence (the cosmos) is posited as a single complex system and thus the “concrete whole” in the priority monism sense. Parts of the cosmos are sub-systems, sub-systems of sub-systems and so on. The cosmos is a real system. All sub-systems of the cosmos are real systems.

Definitions

System: A regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming an integrated whole. Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.

Real System: Any system which obeys the discovered fundamental Laws of physics.

B. MODELS as human understanding in toto

The entirety of human perception and understanding is achieved by modelling. Brain-internal coalesced perception as perceived perception, is a virtual model of perceived external reality. Higher level ideations, concepts and explicit models are themselves also all models. Human understanding (and misunderstanding) is comprised in its entirety of models and nothing but models.

C. TRUTH CORRESPONDENCE

Truth correspondence exists as the connections of valid congruences or isomorphisms between our brain models (all modeled perceptions, understandings, statements and explicit models) and reality (real systems) external to the brain or mind. The brain is also a real system.

D. FORMAL SYSTEMS as a subset of real systems

Formal Systems are a sub-set of real systems. They are a special subset of real systems where information as patterns is encoded, transmitted, received and interpreted in and via real system media comprised of matter and energy (including brains and books for example). Each formal system is instantiated in real system media.

Formal System: Any system of signs based on or forming a language, including mathematics.

E. MATTER, ENERGY AND INFORMATION

Matter, energy and information can be passed between real systems. For many open systems, the transfers of all three are important. In the case of human formal systems (instantiated in real systems), the transfer of information is usually the most important component. The transfers of matter and energy are often minimal and even deliberately minimized to achieve a high information transfer rate to energy use and/or matter “use”. These matter and energy savings are a key reason that all models, especially but not only explicit models (say crafted models in a wind tunnel), are of pragmatic use as tools for investigating reality.

F. THE HUMAN AGENT (A HUMAN BEING)

Human Agency is the capacity of human actors to act in a given environment.
The living human (agent) is the connection between formal systems and real systems.

We can represent this process very simply as:

Real Systems <-> Human Agency <->Formal Systems

What is shown as passing from Real Systems, through Humans exercising agency, to Formal Systems and vice versa? The simplest physicalist answer is mass, energy and information. This is a correct and complete physicalist monist description according to modern physics and its relational system model of the cosmos.

G. SYSTEM BOUNDARIES

Matter, energy and information can pass through system boundaries depending on permeability or penetrability.

A system boundary is a boundary that separates the internal components of a system from external systems. A system boundary can be an interface for the transfer of matter, energy and information.

The process of empirical detection relies on matter, energy, information (in any combination) coming through a system boundary from the detected existent and passing in through the system boundary of the detecting system (a human or human instrument plus human when taking an anthropocentric view).

Thence, the “depths” or internals of any system can only be inferred or deduced (as the case may be) by system boundary phenomena or more correctly by system boundary transferred phenomena.


Conclusion

Admittedly, the above is a brief sketch. In and of itself it provides no solutions to pragmatic or scientific questions. Its only import is to sketch out a consistent ontology for a non-Cartesian and monist physicalist viewpoint. What it does do is remove, in metaphysical terms, the special pleading of some ideation systems (like orthodox economics) for non-physical or ideal units in the realm of the real economy. In addition, it clarifies how formal systems can and do exist in real systems. It further clarifies how accurate and inaccurate modelling both exist epistemologically as congruent or incongruent models of reality external to the model, in the correspondence theory of truth sense, and how this is all instantiated physically.

Clearly, the human agent remains a black box in this brief sketch and for that reason the brief sketch does not and cannot explain why the human agent does what the human agent does.
Ikonoclast
 
Posts: 27
Joined: Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Jonathan Nitzan » Sun Mar 31, 2019 7:38 pm

On March 30, Ikonoclast wrote:

I am not sure of the extent of CasP's rejection of Cartesianism. Does it extend only to rejecting Cartesianism as per Otto Neurath's views re Pseudorationalism?


OR, does CasP's rejection of Cartesianism extend to a rejection of Cartesian dualism? In other words, does the CasP project base its ontology on Monism and specifically in Priority Monism? I ask this leading question because in my view CasP would best maintain ontological consistency in the context of having adopted a Priority Monism ontological frame.


I’m not sure I’m ready/able to answer these very broad questions. In fact, I must admit I do not fully understand the questions in the first place.

I think it would help if you could unzip and flesh out these questions in relations to your points A to G: in your view, how does each of these points relate to conventional political economy, both neoclassical and Marxist?
Jonathan Nitzan
 
Posts: 79
Joined: Sat Dec 06, 2008 2:39 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Ikonoclast » Mon Apr 01, 2019 6:42 am

Jonathan,

I have realised from your response, that our conceptions of the “Cartesian” problem of classical economics are not at all the same. The fault for this misunderstanding is entirely mine. I had assumed we were talking about substantially the same idea.

Your point, in the article “Capital as power: Toward a new cosmology of capitalism” Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan, 2012, was that:

“Political economy, liberal as well as Marxist, stands on three key foundations: (I) a separation between economics and politics; (II) a Galilean/Cartesian/Newtonian mechanical understanding of the economy; and (III) a value theory that breaks the economy into two spheres – real and nominal – and that uses the quantities of the real sphere to explain the appearances of the nominal one.”

Your reference to “Cartesian”, in this context, is a reference to “mechanical understanding of the economy” simpliciter. I took it to be much more, namely an implied critique of Cartesian Dualism itself. I assumed from that and from the further reference to real and nominal spheres that behind your critique of classical economics lay an already developed ontology of Monism of some form. If that were the case, we perhaps could have discussed matters at that level of assumptions. Though even then, you would have been entirely justified in asking “How does each of these points relate to conventional political economy, both neoclassical and Marxist?” And I would still have been forced to answer as honestly as I do now, “I don’t know yet and I don’t even know if I can get to there from here: i.e. from my particular ontological a priori assumption for a Complex Systems form of Priority Monism.

In a sort of defence, I will point to your paragraph:

“It is common to argue that political economists have borrowed their metaphors and methods from the natural sciences. But we should note that the opposite is equally true, if not more so: in other words, the worldview of the scientists reflected their society.”

Then, I point to the examples you gave after that paragraph. I would argue in like manner that classical economics was and remains an outgrowth of the Christian-Cartesian world view. The dualistic split, or more precisely, the trialistic split into the physical, the mental and the spiritual encouraged a mode of thinking which envisioned humankind as separate from nature, having lordship over nature and being a chosen and favoured being; the latter apotheosis was guaranteed if good works or grace applied, depending on sectarian doctrine, and perhaps could take form in this world, as prosperity, as well as in the next.

Classical economics embodies this Christian-Cartesian world view and develops from it the blind faith assumption that the economic realm is entirely man-determined and free-standing from nature, especially in that it is regarded as not fully dependent on real biosphere systems. The apotheosis in this world is economic wealth, gained without concern for others or nature. The need for primary resources (raw materials and free gifts from nature) is recognised formally but it is assumed essentially to be an unending cornucopian bounty maintainable, if need be, by limitless substitution.

So, I would say at base, that classical economics has not escaped its birth from a Christian-Cartesian world view. In this sense, classical economics quite literally is a form of outdated religiosity and has not kept up with progress in science and philosophy. I see the better move, ontologically speaking, to be a change to Complex System Monism (a form of priority Monism) which explicitly places man and economics in the whole, single, real system of existence. How this relates critically to conventional political economy I have not yet been able to develop out. This is where I have failed at deriving any concrete answers to date. I was hoping to learn something in this arena from CasP but our methods re this issue are not similar or equateable. I still see a lot of validity in the CasP approach. Some of your empirical support for the thesis is eye-opening.


In terms of philosophical grounding, a paper like “Deductivism – the fundamental flaw of mainstream economics” by Lars Pålsson Syll heavily supports a CasP or CasP-like method in principle, in my view. It's well worth reading. But Lars Pålsson Syll only goes back into philosophy as far as the philosophy of science and philosophy of logic will take him. This, I can see now is a very smart move. My attempt to go further back (and without the grounding of someone like Lars Syll) right into the middle of metaphysics is a very rash move; very likely to mire me in mere speculations and put me well beyond the point where I can have fruitful conversations with anyone. I’m a school of metaphysics with one adherent, the very worst place to be. ;)

I was made particularly uncomfortable (in relation to my own position) by Lars Syll's references to axiomatic-deductive method being used to develop a consistent or self-consistent system. He applied that to classical economics but I can see it applies perfectly well to my own attempted metaphysics. I was basically aware of this issue and thought the method worth trying if the finally derived consistent system could somehow produce scientifically testable hypotheses. But I have no real idea how my system could do that yet. I have few inklings but these will not nearly stand up yet in a court of empiricism. Indeed, it seems an irony rebounding to my discredit that I am attempting to build an axiomatic-deductive metaphysics (Complex System Monism) to (among other things) refute another axiomatic-deductive metaphysics (which is precisely what classical economics is). I have only just become aware of this error. All it took was a few probing questions from you.
Ikonoclast
 
Posts: 27
Joined: Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Jonathan Nitzan » Tue Apr 02, 2019 1:24 pm

Ikonoclast concludes his March 30th post with the following reservation:

Clearly, the human agent remains a black box in this brief sketch and for that reason the brief sketch does not and cannot explain why the human agent does what the human agent does.


Perhaps this statement can help us reconnect the discussion to CasP, however tentatively.

1. In our formulation, CasP theory is interested not in the actions of individual ‘agents’, but in the creordering of social structures writ large. At its core, CasP theorizes and empirically researches the ways in which the ruling class imposes its logic – against opposition – on the rest of society.

2. The liberal ontology of individual ‘agents’ is part and parcel of the rulers’ imposition of power. The capitalist notion of an atomistic social cosmos denies the reality of differential power and hierarchy, as well as the possibility of collective resistance and the desirability of democratic alternatives.

3. As it stands, CasP theory is both deterministic and existentialistic. In Capital as Power: A Study of Order and Creorder [1], Shimshon and I argue that the capitalist rulers try to mechanize and ‘rationalize’ their control of society; and that since rulers are commonly hostage to their own meta ideology – such as the capitalization ritual – their trajectory is largely deterministic and therefore predictable to some extent.

4. We also argue, though, that unlike the deterministic imposition of power by rulers, resistance by the underlying population is largely opaque, indeterminate and hidden. This is the existential realm, the Castoriadis-like ‘magma’ that the rulers dread but know nothing about until after it erupts.

5. The dialectical clash between the mechanized determinism of the rulers and the creative resistance of their subjects locks the capitalist mode of power into what Ulf Martin calls an ‘autocatalytic sprawl’ [2] – an ongoing, open-ended ‘loop’ in which the imposition of rationality generates unintended ‘irrationality’, leading to further attempts to rationally harness the new ‘irrationality’, which in turn begets more ‘irrationality’, and so on and on.

6. Should this deterministic-existentialistic autocatalytic sprawl be examined as part of Complex System Monism (CSM)? This question is not easy to answer. On the one hand, we may concede that this sprawl is subject to some broad, scientifically sanctioned natural limits/patterns bundled under the rubrics of physics, chemistry, biology etc. On the other hand, the derivation/determination of these natural limits/patterns is recursively enfolded, at least in part, in this very autocatalytic sprawl. In other words, in some sense, the entire Complex System is partly embedded in one of its own (somewhat indeterministic and open-ended) subsets….

***

[1] Nitzan, Jonathan, and Shimshon Bichler. 2009. Capital as Power. A Study of Order and Creorder. RIPE Series in Global Political Economy. New York and London: Routledge, pp. 19-21. http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/259/

[2] Martin, Ulf. 2018. The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery (version 0.12). Working Papers on Capital as Power (2018/04, June): 1-20 http://bnarchives.yorku.ca/544/
Jonathan Nitzan
 
Posts: 79
Joined: Sat Dec 06, 2008 2:39 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Ikonoclast » Tue Apr 02, 2019 10:28 pm

Reply to Post by Jonathan Nitzan - Tue Apr 02, 2019 1:24 pm

Note: I have cut this screed down a bit since first posting it.

The Agent

One has to be very careful with terminology and definitions. Different disciplines often use the same term with different definitions. For example, when I use the term “agent”, I do not mean the ideologically conditioned definition of “agent” implied in the liberal ontology of individual ‘agents’. Instead, I mean the precise definition I offer and no more. “Human Agency is the capacity of human actors to act in a given environment.”

In this sense, “agency” is broad enough to include a human or a computer (computerised) agent like a software agent or an AI (Artificial Intelligence) agent. Of course, each of these is a very different kind of agent and that is why an adjective is needed as in “human agent” or “AI agent”.

Concomitantly, my definition of “human agent” does not necessarily imply “free agent”. The assumption that the agent is free is just that, an assumption. To begin with, we can see that any agent, if free, is only free within bounds, not extensively or absolutely free. The human agent in a capitalist system has her or his freedoms variously expanded or curtailed and most often channelled into strongly pre-determined paths laid out by the system itself and of course the class of origin of the human agent. This statement is true for all systems of course. Feudalism or a plantation slave system do not escape this depiction.

CasP Theory

I am greatly impressed by the CasP project. That states my bias up front. My approach might be too metaphysical, hence unempirical, despite my declared intention of generating a “near-empirical” metaphysics.

As I understand it, CasP concentrates on aspects of “ruling class logic imposed, against opposition, on the rest of society”, but in particular it focuses on those aspects which can be both theorised and then empirically researched. I still struggle to categorise CasP. It is not a pure axiomatic-deductivist and normative theory of the type of classical economics. Classical economics axiomatically posits massive simplifications (actually fictionalizations) of the real, like its endlessly duplicable agent, homo economicus. In plurality, these are not individuals but clones. They also behave no differently in “composition” (here meaning in aggregation) than they do individually. Thus, there are no emergent socioeconomic (or even emergent individual) behaviors admitted to the theory. Analyses based on the supposition of homo economicus fall to a logical fallacy, namely the fallacy of composition.

CasP creatively and effectively side-steps, it seems to me, the thorny problem of how the formal relates to the real, at least in economics. You might well disagree with this characterisation of “side-steps” at some level. Instead of trying to solve the conundrums of value theory including labour theory, within economics per se, CasP completely annuls them. In empirical philosophy terms, you have demonstrated that value theory is a non-problem, at least outside of moral philosophy (the arena of consequentialist or normative ethics depending on a primary choice of moral philosophy orientation). Only the false assumptions of classical economics raise up value theory as a problem with a claimed solution, hence it must be identified as a non-problem; a “problem” only conjured up by false assumptions.

CasP effectively says, since money values do not measure real values in any sense (and the term “real value” is debatable, subjective and non-empirical anyway) then we must analyse what money values mean in another way. The way chosen is to keep money values formal, as indeed they truly are. The money unit, is not linked by CasP to any physically measurable quantity that is supposedly “measured” like goods and services or utils. The next step in CasP is to treat money as a measure of “power”. This is where matters become tricky, at least for me, in following the reasoning through. I am not saying you have not solved it. I am saying I doubt whether I have fully comprehended this step.

What is power? A pedantic physicalist could insist on “power” having a physical (real) definition. “In physics, power is the rate of doing work, the amount of energy transferred per unit time. Having no direction, it is a scalar quantity.” In one sense, so far so good. Money is a scalar quantity. But what “rate of doing work” does money measure? Let us leave that aside for a moment.

Clearly there are social science and political-economy definitions of power. The broadest definition might be “the ability to act or produce an effect”. A business definition is, “ability to cause or prevent an action, make things happen; the discretion to act or not act.” Finally, a narrower economic definition would be as follows:- The power to acquire and dispose of property and to also exclude (by physical exclusion, threats, fines or punishments) or admit (gratis or for a fee, consideration or rent) people to property and its benefits.

To my mind, CasP’s theorisation of capital as power most directly links to the final definition above. This would be the sense in which money capital (CasP’s entire explicit view of capital, at least within its own theoretical system) most directly measures power.

It seems to me that CasP has looked for the most direct “real thing” that money capital measures. Money capital, in itself, is a notional quantisation which can be and is measured. Indeed, capitalism makes an all-pervasive fetish and obsession of measuring it and measuring things in it. Though notional, money is still very real in one important sense. It comes back, I think, to my analysis of real systems and formal (notional) systems. In my analysis I say formal systems are instantiated in real systems, in real system media, as information (patterns which can influence the generation of other patterns). Money values in notes and coin, in promissory notes, in accounting ledgers, in stocks, bonds and debentures, in banking accounts, in computers and in electronic transmission, are in all cases information stored and transmitted as patterns in real physical media. Hence, the pattern too is real: ontologically speaking physically real yet containing, epistemologically speaking, directly accessible, translatable and understandable, formalised and human-generated information.

Information, defined as patterns which can influence the generation of other patterns, is at the heart of this issue. Clearly CasP capital meets this definition. We have sets of institutions, laws, finance and accounting rules and registries of ownership to use the pattern of money information to control and maintain the pattern of property allocation and reallocation. People are educated and enculturated (via the inculcation of patterns of information in their heads) to internalise and then externally operationalise (act as cogs for the machine) these transformation and manipulation rules. The informational links are close and empirically demonstrable in the sense in which CasP theorises. I cannot emphasise this enough. It lends strong credence, indeed a strong epistemic truth warrant in my view, to CasP’s theoretical underpinnings including especially the “deterministic autocatalytic sprawl” analysis. Indeed, because of the axiomatic nature of the money-property system, as instantiated in our society, we could term it the “axiomatically determined, algorithmically calculated, autocatalytic sprawl”. It will continue to operate in this manner while human agents “behave themselves” and act as anything from minimally obedient to maximally enthusiastic agents for the system.

Classical economics proceeds on the assumption that the market (really there are many markets in “the market” of course) is a heuristic machine for deriving real value, as utility value. The market measures real value in nominal units which theoretically make the real utility values of various goods and services directly cross-comparable on average and over the longer term. Immediately, we notice that this is a heuristic system, not an algorithmic system. This is unlike the money / property system which we can see is really an axiomatic-algorithmic system in its direct tying of money capital to the property system. This possession of algorithmic precision in linking and of empirically measurable components in this system enables the CasP method of analysis to generate, in my view, its objectivity warrant. This is notwithstanding the fact that there are property markets which in turn we must note are peculiarly organised, constructed and rigged in ways quite different from the construction of consumer markets (which have their own rigging of course).

In consumer markets, people really make rule of thumb estimates, often at a very subjective level, about the utility value of various products to them and the opportunity costs involved in choosing a given product or service over others. There are also all sorts of considerations and values not properly drawn into the market system. Humanist values, religious values, natural system values and even scientific values are not properly drawn into the market system but are often, perhaps most often, left outside as extraneous impedimenta and negative externalities. In summary, this means the market fails to value everything, fails to value objectively and fails to meet a key objective which its advocates claim it meets namely, “the efficient allocation of scarce resources”. This last claim by classical economics is particularly risible in my view. At the same time, it is a particularly dangerous false claim and thus draws my ire. For example, how is it efficient to destabilise and imperil the Holocene’s relatively stable and benign climate “settings”? This is emerging as one serious side effect of capitalist market economics.

The point here is that classical economics starts from axiomatic foundations and proceeds deductively. This is normative method rather than scientific or empirical method. Yet, it then prescribes that its methods are the best for dealing with real systems; meaning real quantities, real environments and real people. It’s an audacious, even a preposterous claim. CasP on the other hand, deals with nominal expressions and quantities of capital, real in the informational sense, and thence real in the control-transformation (creorder) sense via the actions of human agents, and increasingly by programmed computer agents, who/which interpret and enact the informational instructions of capital made decree-like and automatically algorithmic by the entire capital system itself. This a more modest claim epistemologically and a much more supportable one empirically.

I still consider that CasP needs to be positioned overall in a complex systems science and information science context in order to firm up its ontological credentials. Perhaps CasP has already done this (made firm its ontological credentials) and I am being obtuse in not seeing it because I have come at this problem from another direction. If that’s the case, then what I am doing here is just “carrying coals to Newcastle” and these coals are probably crushed up into coal dust and so not useful pieces at all for CasP application. However, I can keep working on attempting to understand CasP in terms that I can fully comprehend.
Last edited by Ikonoclast on Wed Apr 03, 2019 5:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
Ikonoclast
 
Posts: 27
Joined: Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Re: Comments on BN's 'Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism'

Postby Ikonoclast » Wed Apr 03, 2019 12:46 am

On re-reading my long reply above, I see I have again been rambling and discursive. It's because I am trying to work out what I think as I write. I've gone back and cut it down. In future I will delay such a comment for another day at least and re-draft it into something much more concise, much as Jonathan did in his reply to me.

I should add that J.N.'s points seemed very difficult and condensed to me on a first reading. Then, after my discursive attempt to elaborate my own views, I went back and all of J.N.'s points seemed crystal clear and wonderfully concise. That is good but it does not mean I ought to inflict my discursive first drafts on others. Must do better.

By the way, I agree with every point in J.N's reply now I understand it. It's just the very last sentence which I am having difficulty with. "In other words, in some sense, the entire Complex System is partly embedded in one of its own (somewhat indeterministic and open-ended) subsets…."

Did that sentence mean to say:

"In other words, in some sense, the Complex System of the deterministic autocatalytic sprawl is embedded in the (indeterministic and open-ended) superset (of the biosphere)…." ?

You can see I have limited the first Complex System under discussion to the "deterministic autocatalytic sprawl" itself and then specified it is in an open-ended superset (the biosphere) which it plays a role in creordering (and also in deordering in waste and entropy terms). In this formulation, the open-ended superset contains, outside the deterministic autocatalytic sprawl, both the existenialistic human element and the full biosphere with ecologies, climate system, bioservice systems etc. I guess it is just that in my Complex System Monism, the method is to make the largest real system under discussion serve as the enclosing set or superset and to see any Formal systems as sub-systems instantiated in real systems (as patterns containing information which can affect, and effect, other patterns).

Does this make sense or have I misunderstood something?
Ikonoclast
 
Posts: 27
Joined: Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Next

Return to Political Economy

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron