Dunno. I hope to find out.

At Chris‘s suggestion I started Simon Clarke’s book Keynesianism, Monetarism and the Crisis of the State. I’ve meant to read Clarke for a long while, as I associate him with the open marxism mob, which I have a lot of time for. So far I’ve read the intro and a few pages of chapter 1 (so far no footnotes in ch1. Ugh! also, I care about footnotes, so ugh on me as well). From the intro I like the book a great deal, am excited about it. Here, a few notes to help me think, especially important because I’m reading the book on a kindle, ugh again, because that seems to reduce my reading comprehension and retention.

Clarke talks about monetarism as an economic policy doctrine, one that came after Keynesian economic policy. He criticizes both doctrines. Both economic theories are ‘theories that serve to more to legitimate than to guide political practice. The ideas of monetarism are important, but their importance is ideological, in giving coherence and direction to political forces which have deeper roots.’ (p1) They “are not populist ideologies so much as ideologies of the state, giving ideological coherence to the institutional framework and policy decisions of the state.” (p12)

He criticizes what I think of as a social democratic take on keynesianism, that what I think of as neoliberalism (a term Clarke doesn’t use, at least so far) is not simply a product of the strength of the right and weakness of the left. He also criticizes a view that keynesianism served industrial capitalists while monetarism serves finance capitalists. He notes that the distinction between those types of capitalists doesn’t really hold water nor does the idea that finance and industry have massively different interests even to the limited degree the distinction between the two makes sense. (His argument on the latter is that economic downturns reduce demand for financial products and lead to capital surpluses, not good for finance.) He also criticizes the view that the decline of keynesianism can be explained as a decline of the political power of the working class or as the result of a confrontation between the capitalist and the working class. While there are impaortant class dimensions to the decline of keynsianism, Clarke argues that keynesianism wasn’t an achievement of the working class and that the decline of keynesianism doesn’t necessarily mean a rise in the rate of exploitation.

Instead Clarke says the decline of keynesianism and rise of monetarism should be understood as part of “a fundamental restructuring of the relations between capital, the working class and the state, involving not simply a shift in the balance of economic and political power, but a change in the form of the state and class relations, in which some elements of the working class gain at the expense of others.” (p7) This restructuring is tied to a structural crisis of capitalism. Here Clarke takes pains to distance himself from the Regulation School. I’m not sure I follow all of his points and am not sure if I care there.

The key issues for Clarke are to do with fundamental aspects of capitalist society, particularly money and the state, which he calls “the dual forms of capitalist power.” (p11) “The power of money is the power of command over commodities and, in a capitalist society, over labour-power as a commodity. (…) It is (…) the foundation of the capitalist mode of production” (p9) His interest in the book is in “the relation between the power of money and the power of the state. The underlying theoretical problem is the more general one of the relations between economics, politics and ideology.” (p13) He aims “to develop a more adequate framework within which to grasp both the coherence and the complexity of the relationships between economics, politics and ideology in the crisis-ridden development of capitalism.” (p13)

“Monetarism does not involve a withdrawal of the state from economic regulation, but offers new (…) forms of state regulation.” (p10)

Clarke says in the beginning of the intro that the decline of keynesianism and rise of monetarism can’t be explained by contingent developments but, because so widespread and due to disparate ideologies of the parties in power, must be explained by deeper structural causes. I think I’m on board with that but am not totally sure. I also don’t know how to square that with “Monetarism assumed a ‘hegemonic’ position because monetarist policies secured electoral endoresement.” (12)

I love the account of the discussions in the Conference of Socialist Economists re: value and re: the state. (p13-14) He concludes that the CSE discussions ultimately gave rise to a view that behind institutional variations we should see “money, law and the state as complimentary economic, legal, and political forms of the power of capital.” (p15) Those divergent institutions have an “underlying unity” explainable via value theory, especially via understanding money – “the most abstract form of capital, whose power is institutionalized in the law and enforced by the state.” (p15) On this view, marxism is ultimately “a theory of social forms.” (p15)

Loads of works in his footnotes that I want to look at, including Bob Fine, ed., Capitalism and the Rule of Law, and Kayt and Mott, Political Order and the Law of Labour.

One shortcoming of the CSE was a failure of synthesis, of not creating “a systematic theoretical and historical account of the development of the forms of capitalist domination” (p16).

I like his point that “the capitalist character of the state (…) cannot be reduced to the political privileges of capitalists.” (p17) I would put the point as something like, or as including, that the state enshrines a notion of social order and social reproduction where the order reproduced and maintained is specifically a capitalist one – a continual re-imposition of capitalist social structures and institutions, even if imposed by modulating/varying those institutions.

While the capitalist state is a class state, it also represents the national community and needs some measure of legitimacy, hence “the social and political aspirations of the working class” are something “to which [the state] has to respond within the limits of its form, confining the working class within the form of the wage and the constitutional form of the state.” (p19.)

Clarke says (summarizing chapter 6, which I’m excited to read) that “the institutional forms of industrial relations, social administration and electoral representation [were means] through which the capitalist state sought to confine the aspirations of the working class within the limits of its liberal form.” (p19)

Clarke de-emphasizes the idea of the keynesian state as any kind of departure, rather it was a playing out of fundamental aspects of the logic of capitalism. The implication here seems to be that we should see continuity behind the surface disjuncture between keynesianism and monetarism. I’m not 100% sure I’m right about that but I hope I am, as I like the point a lot.

The structural crisis Clarke mentioned appears to be “a conflict between the power of money and the power of the state, as the institutionalized forms of class collaboration [that is, within keynesianism] increasingly appeared as a barrier to the accumulation of capital and the aspirations of the working class, and so took the form of a struggle over the form of the state. The rise of monetarism expressed the provisional triumph of capital in this struggle as the subordination of the institutional forms of the Keynesian Welfare State to the power of money confined the aspirations of the working class within the limits of capital.” (p20)

I find that last line a bit ambiguous. Does ‘as’ mean ‘within which’ or does it mean ‘because’? That is: is the point that the triumph of monetarism was an important moment in subordinating the working class within keynesian institutions and in making those institutions serve working class subordination/making those institutions subordinate to the power of money? Or is the point that keynesian institutions subordinated the working class/were subordinate to the power of money and this had some effect on the rise of monetarism?