Intersecting processes in political economy

These excerpts from a Damage, a book review by George Scialabba affirm my sense that discussions of Big Ideas, such as the “free market” are a diversion from examining the intersecting processes in political economy.

“Deepening” is the suggestive word that economists use to describe a developing country’s increasing involvement with international finance. As more transactions take place between borrowers and lenders, as more mediating institutions are formed, more financial instruments introduced, and more laws and regulations devised, something intricate and integrated emerges across national borders: the deepening of the mighty “financial markets” that dictate government policies and decide the fate of populations.

With innumerable connecting threads forming a complex, near-organic unity, this spectral entity is at once extraordinarily sensitive and extraordinarily stable. The slightest external stimulus is registered, its effects transmitted rapidly throughout the system—but as with all complex organisms, a homeostatic process swiftly restores equilibrium. Deep-enough markets are impossible for individuals to dominate or disrupt; there are simply too many controls, shock absorbers, balancing mechanisms…

In addition to attaining this stranglehold on economic life, business has undertaken a long march through the political landscape. Concentrating media ownership in a few giant corporations; slashing public funding for education at all levels; creating a cottage industry of junk science and dubious policy research; placing industry flacks at the head of regulatory agencies; packing the appellate courts with younger, less experienced, but rabidly partisan conservative judges; and, most important, spending huge sums to elect friendly legislators and provide them with lucrative employment when they leave office: These are the mechanisms of business hegemony in 21st-century America. The resulting political system is as dense and intricate a web as the financial markets—and, like the latter, it wonderfully facilitates certain kinds of initiatives (money-driven ones) while efficiently frustrating others (citizen-driven ones). It has been skillfully engineered to make fundamental change extremely difficult…


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