• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
You are here:
The state in the free economy (Part Three): The economy as a field of power and authority PDF Print E-mail
The Labour Movement-Economy

Blue-cube_230_commonA. One thing which is not admitted in the various reviews of the state of the economy, or in theories about the economy, is the nature of the operation of the economy (at least at a certain level) as power and authority. Authority is not identified with governance as such, or with its agents –though this is what usually happens with the aid of other factors. We could define authority as the attempt, by means of acts and omissions, to manipulate the consciousness of others, many or few, of facts, and of any other factor with a purpose which is not consonant with the common good, even if the action alone is not in itself opposed to it.


The fact of authority unfolds over time, and the linkage of facts with the outcome is not always immediately apparent, except when, on the one hand, the purpose of the actor is in time fulfilled, or, on the other, in the light of more parallel factors which can reveal the motive and the necessary combinative result of the isolated practice. This absence of transparency has exactly this aim: the concealment of concurrent factors which could reveal in good time motives and future events. The discernment of the action is for this reason extremely a difficult and laborious task and, on common surface criteria, its role in history does not become evident – except very much ex post facto.

This kind of power is a phantom – regardless of how strong it may be. And as Lao Tse said: "For this reason, humility is the root of greatness, just as the lowly is a foundation of the sublime. Rulers would be sincere only if they confessed their unworthiness."[1] But power is persistent, not only the personified form, but that which is diffused in man.

The various concepts have ended up by being presented in politics as if they were to be applied in a world of equality, justice, and nobility where there is complete transparency of aims, actions, and prospects, as, for example, the free economy is presented - and, moreover, as an individual and democratic right. Besides, competition itself, which is represented as a panacea for economic problems, in order to work as we are promised, requires a relative equality of forces. But such a thing does not exist; it is a fantasy. The operation of the economy, and particularly of the free economy, is not determined directly by the average person, or, perhaps, even by the relatively prosperous. It is not, that is, he who has the initiative, however the response to stimuli set up by others is up to him. This is his responsibility.
It is an insult to man to require a perfect environment for him to demonstrate high standards –and this is because he possesses spirit, he is not an object. This does not mean that those who set up the obstacles are irresponsible. Usually they consider that they are doing the right thing, regarding the observable perverseness of conscience of the rest of humanity as the remission of their own 'sins'. But two perversities - and, moreover, two so alike! - do not exchange indulgences! But the power being managed logically increases responsibility accordingly.

At the same time, in parallel with the pronouncements about freedom of the economy as a symbol of liberty, in the field of action the phenomena of corruption make their appearance - even if not in their fully developed form - and are represented in such a way as to appear cut off from these theoretical pronouncements, which, in this way, attempt to retain their verisimilitude by wilfully overlooking the existing perverse anthropological factor which renders them ab initio impossible in practice. All this takes place in a vicious circle of concepts, antitheses, conflicts, needs, and absurdity which is not going to stop until the exhaustion either of human beings or of the planet.

Economic magnitudes are - whether we like it or not - power and authority, and freedom has no value for power, expect for purposes of demagogy.

Here we must also clear up the following:
1. - Although the economic magnitude itself would not, from the point of view of common theory, be capable of constituting power, inevitably, given human greed, the use of power by the one who possesses it would be impossible to avoid. This is because the economy is not a sphere which is cut off, unconnected with material, biological, and psychological reality; rather, it is the very distillation of this reality in the field of phenomena.

Greed and a tendency towards superiority and control are an external effect on the calculatory economic models of thought which must be taken into account from the start, mainly because it is also a dominant factor which regulates human life and economy. We cannot in a naive way isolate external effects simply because they are not capable of precise measurement. Besides, the neglect of these factors is often deliberate, in order to mislead society. Failure to take this external effect into account leads inevitably to a situation of strength of the powerful which is simply not admitted.

The mere en masse enunciation of principles does not constitute 'catharsis' for our actions, but, rather, the inclusion of all the factors, so that the enunciation of them can become practice by approximation. It is at this point of the neglect of external effects, such as anthropological characteristics, that the deliberate distortions of the function and nature of ideas and the facile radical presentations and applications of them fit in – even if with different motives. More particularly, the nature of freedom is very far from the naive and senseless 'freedom' of this kind.

2. - On the other hand, we should point out in all sincerity that the very attempt to achieve a large economic magnitude is ontologically something which is redundant –and redundancy is always harmful, not only for philosophical integration, but also for the field of practice, since practice is ruled and determined to a large degree by the psychological processes and not by pure reason. The so-called economic 'bubble' is a result of redundancy and not of reason.

3. - Furthermore, it is self-evident that in the face of such magnitudes, man, either as an individual or as a group, has no power of competition. The competition which people imagine has no real existence, since all the conditions have been defined by powerful economic players, and it is only at a micro-economic level not worth mentioning that it can operate. In addition, there is competition at the high echelons of capital, but, again, this does not affect the average citizens in practical terms.

4. - Moreover, we should note here that the 'democratic' process of the election of the representatives of the people for government itself requires, inter alia, significant sums of money for the promotion of the candidates, a fact which brings out the dependence of politics itself on money and its agents.

This dependence of politics on money, together with the notional obscurity of the principles enunciated, both in elections and in government, is obvious world-wide and leads us unavoidably to the conclusion that the economy is a fourth estate, in addition to the official three, which pervades all areas of enterprise and of life; it is unofficial but de facto more powerful than the others, which it underlies - not because Marx or any other thinker said it, but because it is proved in practice that it is so. It is only for theoretical reasons that we must make it clear here that though wealth is today a factor for power, in the future a corresponding factor for power and strength could be different and more 'non-material'. Recently, the economy itself has increasingly used non-material economic tools.

Nevertheless, it is our view that all the factors in power and strength fall within an 'economy in a broad sense' whose characteristic is a lack of sufficiency for all - and power itself is always for the few, even when it is not based on money. It is our view, that is, that there is a law of the economy as to whatever is in short supply, and human desire falls within this, and it always turns towards what it does not have and what is not enough for all. Furthermore, the tendency towards superiority has precisely this as its aim: to possess something that not everyone can possess. This constitutes the world of need, whether the need is real or imaginary.

B. This whole situation of the distortion of the economy and of its conversion into power and authority cannot fail to influence the economic, political, and social field.

1. - The influence on the economy of the doctrine of 'continuous' development, and, consequently, of continuous consumption, has led to exhaustion of natural resources (and we are not talking here about climate change, the cause of which is disputed by some). The result of this exhaustion is obvious, and leads to a significant worsening of the standard of living of human beings anywhere in the world because of the exhaustion of water, of biodiversity, of healthiness of living, but it also distorts the economy further.

It is worth mentioning at this point a passage in an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 7 March 2009, preceded by a reference to two writers, one of whom was the well-known ecologist and writer Jonathan Porritt, on this issue: there needs to be a robust rebuttal of any idea that environmental problems are in some way a collateral question or even a luxury in a period of economic pressure; environmental issues are indissolubly bound up with economic questions.[2]

This distortion of the economy can be made apparent by a simple syllogism:

(a) If the doctrine of constant development continues, then, taking into account the fact that other countries, such as China, are beginning to operate in a way similar to that of the West, the destruction described above will be rapidly accelerated. If, however, the doctrine changes, for wealth to be retained in the hands of those who possess it, the rest must sink into a state of indigence, with unforeseeable consequences.

(b) If we take into account that there is a tendency towards constant investment of money held - the quantity of which, naturally, does not correspond to the real economy: it consists more in notional games with the expectation of wealth - one must ask in what this money is now going to be invested in the event of the exhaustion of natural resources and of incomes. There remain the goods which supply basic needs and people themselves, who are perhaps in this way being prepared for a new slavery.

2. In such a situation that outbreaks of war will threaten - perhaps not only regional wars, given that the countries of the North are quarrelling about which of them will control the Arctic passage after the melting of the ice. Such is the foolishness of otherwise plausible-seeming people that, instead of being scared by this global change in environmental balances, believe that the change will go ahead so smoothly (as their desire and exceptional ignorance fanatasises) that the day will come when they will derive benefits from it. But nature does not comply with the desires and the atrocious ignorance of men.

At this point, we could quote two passages from the great American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson[3] to the effect that  the motive forces of man are based on the hypothesis of the diachronicity of nature –something which has clearly been forgotten in the games of power and having a comfortable life of everyone without exception. Also: man acts upon the world only with his intellect. He lives in it and rules over it with a minimum of good sense ... And in this way his brain is bestialised and he becomes a primitive egoist.

If Emerson said that then, what would he say today? Vladimir Putin expected that climate change would render the frozen regions of his country arable.[4] This year he had a first taste of what a heat wave means. And if Siberia, for example, were ever to become an orchard, this would never happen as long as all these politicians are alive, and perhaps then Siberia would be inhabited by other peoples. Canada carries out patrols with its navy in the Arctic region, putting forward claims over its exploitation. The USA, Denmark, and Norway are also ready stake their own claims, while France is indirectly involved in all this undertaking by providing Norway and Russia with technical aid for the pumping of gas from the Artic.

The world, in the end, resembles a vast menagerie where the voices of reason and understanding are not heard. And the problem is that there are no animal-tamers, and so man must be his own tamer. It seems that changes in the world in the course of history have not taught us anything about the fact that there is no true permanence of goods and power.

Instead of all this superficial reaction, the future of the planet should be seriously discussed by all of us and all power strategies should, with proof of good will, be reduced to a minimum or be eliminated, so that there can be a normalisation of the economic differences between states. This normalisation is essential, because otherwise it is not possible for the beggar to be asked to remain a beggar so that somebody else can live in comfort. This means, of course, in some way a distribution of wealth, certain significant sharing – and without this the conflict will be merciless. And although economic resources may be in short supply, the weapons are more than adequate for a major disaster.

3. Naturally, it is not only outbreaks of war between states which threaten the world, but clashes within states. What these are called - class conflicts or otherwise - is not important, what is important is that we do not know how the great reserve of fear, of inferiority, of oppressed desire, of need, of envy, or anger will explode under great pressure. Indeed, it must be considered certain that great pressure does not necessarily lead to reactions which are rational and serve the needs, but frequently bring about disastrous forms of defusing. And any kind of conflict which goes beyond the bounds of reason harms civilisation  –that civilisation which we have acquired with the help of great historical figures, whom we have forgotten in a wish to maintain the illusion that all this edifice of civilisation is either our own creation or is to be taken for granted – which it is not!

4. The poiticians, with the 'bubble' method of economic development and with their constant borrowings are not going to lead their countries to any self-sufficiency. They conceal the causes of the reality from societies in order to hold on to their own positions. A different economic development would require the whole of society to work together. We are not speaking here of ideological obsessions, but of a simple adjustment to need. And as the Archbishop of Canterbury, with reference to the distinguished professor of law and adviser to many US governments Philip Bobbitt, says: " ... increasingly, a government bases its legitimacy on its ability to satisfy the demands of consumers and to maximise their options - on its ability to postpone or cover up the element of the uncontrollable ... ".[5] We should note again here that any reference to the views of others does not mean that we accept the whole of the positions which they express, but the value of this delimited and specific views.

5. This whole economic situation will lead to forms of nationalism, because peoples will attempt to pass on the responsibility to other peoples and to become in some way self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency, however - though not in itself negative - nevertheless when undertaken in conditions of anger and fear leads to nationalism. However, the possibility of our having, in an economic crisis, an environmental crisis (which are indissolubly allied) and a military crisis a loss of ethnic characteristics by reason of unforeseen and radical changes in social cohesion and in the need for migration.

6. Societies will be oppressed because of unemployment, lack of resources and goods, with the result that the problems of human relations will be intensified. This is also damaging to social cohesion.

7. In such conditions democracy in the sense that we know it (which is not, of course, real democracy, but which is, nevertheless, better than political and social totalitarianism) could not exist. Parliamentary democracy requires some economic stability and prosperity in order to operate. Major inequality does not guarantee parliamentary democracy, and, by definition, it does not guarantee democracy as a quality of options, regardless of organisation  –unless there are exceptional surprises.

8. In such a situation of the relation of power to the world (human and otherwise), the scenarios can have many versions, but, in summary form, it could be thought that:

-The crisis can only take on a multiplicity of forms, since the world environment is complex and the concurrent factors to a large degree composite. Conflicts are unavoidable, and those who have the power will think of ways of avoiding the crisis with the minimum of losses.

-The model of non-material defusing which is termed nationalism or religious fundamentalism could be used.

In addition, just as they have created non-material complicated economic tools for the acquisition of profit, so they will also think up non-material 'solutions' for the oppressed consciousness of man in crisis. In any event, the creation of the Western model of life was a similar undertaking. However, this model will now create a problem, since it was focused precisely on the consumerism and possession of goods which is now under attack.

One possible solution would be the use of a false collectivity, in which defusing and the extinction of material desires will be achieved through their amalgamation with supposed values - apart from the above. However, these values will inevitably not be worth mentioning, and not even secondary in relation to the true and fundamental values, but for inert masses of people they may prove sufficient. Such an attempt has already been made by the cultivation of the feeling of employees that they are identified with the companies for which they work. This is a central point of management in the field of administration and the ensuring of quality (Total quality management).

This is a psychological game which will intensify with time and will take on different forms, given that the various parts of humanity are in greater contact with one another today than they were in the past, and collectivity is on the rise. However, collectivity could develop into a major disaster for mankind if the groups gather into themselves all the individualism and aggressiveness of their members, who will win recognition through the group power against others (because this is going to be the use which will be made of it).
Then they will become very strong, but will not differ in any way from the individualistic person with less power. This requires urgent and special attention, because collectivity is another concept which needs clarification in depth, so that people are not moved by senseless and distorted models. Nationalism in the negative sense was such a model. Sometimes, the family to a certain degree gives expression to a similar model (divisiveness, nepotism) –despite the extreme necessity for it.

There are, of course, good aspects, but at the moment we do not know whether the measure of man's understanding of these is sufficient for him to deal with the crisis. What is certain is that an in-depth redefinition of the values of life will be urgently required, otherwise their place will be taken by distorted presentations of them. Life, like nature, cannot stand vacuums.

Collectivity to start with has a non-material nature, it is a fact in the consciousness, but its nature cannot be any kind of fantasy of value or opposition, nor can it change a limited collectivity into a refusal of wholeness, otherwise it will be a matter of a transformation of individuality into a totality of many individualities which will behave in an individualistic way. The basic conception is the same as that of the past; the question is what forms it will take on in present-day conditions.

However, all the solutions at hand for the crisis necessarily pass through human consciousness and its development, and these latter are concepts which the so-called 'realism', with its competition and its dominance, cannot accept as serious if they speak of a better world, but nevertheless use the consciousness in a reverse, cynical, direction. The fascination of transient power is a phantom which controls human thought in the hope of permanence and the prestige of the capability for control and destruction.

It also gives rise to the fantasy of superiority - that power is over and beyond the psychological intricacies of 'ordinary' people, because it regards as psychology only emotion, whereas absence of emotion, the existence of desire, and all the phenomena of consciousness are psychological phenomena. Moreover, in the obsession with power these things are intensified to such a degree that man is cut off from the subjectivity of the environment and looks upon it only as an object, so that he is unable to perceive the incalculable factor of the subjectivity of others. It is in this way that entire empires have fallen – but power does not understand. Unfortunately, the rest of mankind doesn't wish to understand either, even though they will be forced to.

The economy, in the end, is the mirror of man's relations with himself and with other people and with the non-human environment. The biblical mandate to 'rule over' the earth has been interpreted not as a service of improvement in the primitive environment, but as an objectivisation of it for pitiless use. The same has happened with money. These two things are not unconnected, but form the psychological and interpretative background of our choices.

[1] Tao Te Ching, “The Book of the Word and of Nature”, publ. Smili, trans. G. Alexakis, p. 66.
Rowan Willams, Archbishop of Canterbury, 'Ethics, Economic Theory and Global Justice', Synaxi journal [in Greek], issue 114, 'The economy in crisis', p. 35.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature”, publ. Pontiki, trans. E. Papantoniou. pp. 73 and 105.
The winners and losers of climate change, Alistair Doyle, Reuters, Monday, 2 April 2007.
Rowan Willams, Archbishop of Canterbury, “Ethics, Economic Theory and Global Justice”, Synaxi journal [in Greek], issue 114, 'The economy in crisis', p. 28.

You may also read:

Ioanna Moutsopoulou, Lawyer
Member of the Secretariat of Solon NGO

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Photo from Wikimedia

Creative Commons License
You are free: to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work.  
Under the following conditions: