Adam Smith and co thought that markets were the most efficient means of organizing a society. Or did they?

Michael Perleman says nope. I just re-read this essay excerpted from his book, where he looks at journals, letters, policy papers, and other material sometimes not counted included in the theoretical works of classical economy. Looking at these works, Perelman concludes that classical political economists understood perfectly well that markets required force to be set up, and that they supported and proposed primitive accumulation in order to do so.

This is interesting to me for a few reasons. One, just because, well, if it’s true then it’s worth knowing. It seems to me there’s a difference worth knowing between a sort of “they didn’t really know” and “they knew exactly” in relation to the violence involved in primitive accumulation. Two, because if true I think it can raise questions about the importance of or meaning of ideology. If they know what they’re doing then ideology means something different than if they’re in some way deluded about it. Three, because of the ties to my complaint about Foucault separating exploitation and domination in my last post. Primitive accumulation sets up the conditions for exploitation. It’s not exploitation itself, and is domination. At the same time, it’s directly productive of (and, Perelman argues, deliberately aimed at) creating exploitation, which qualifies the separation – the two modes exist together in/as an ensemble. (Mike Davis has a great article about Taylorism that relates to this point as well, my very partial notes are here, I should revisit that and read the other material linked to it; this relates to the labor [and valorization] process after capitalism is established.)

Perelman quotes Bentham saying “between wealth and power the connection is most close and intimate: so intimate, indeed, that the disentanglement of them, even in the imagination, is a matter of no small difficulty. They are each of them respectively an instrument of the production of other.” (Perelman, 14. In a similar quote I found online [from The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2 (Judicial Procedure, Anarchical Fallacies, works on Taxation) > CHAPTER XVII.: ACCOMPANIMENTS TO REMUNERATION. > paragraph 3809; here] Bentham writes simply “Wealth itself is power.”)

The issue matters to me because I think the power/economy distinction borders on depoliticizing the economy (I wrote a thing on Negri and what Schmitt calls depoliticalization here, something I might get back to someday), removing the political part from political economy, as opposed to reading capital as political. That’s another way to say what I like about the primitive accumulation stuff, it’s a historical moment where capitalism as political is apparent. Hence Marx’s remarks in the chapter on primitive accumulation about force as itself an economic power, hence at least some economic relations are relations force, a relation of power.

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