[Marxism] Adam's Fallacy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 8 14:50:12 MST 2007


The Meaning of Adam's Fallacy: An Interview with Duncan K Foley
Thursday, 08 February 2007

Adam's Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology has critical implications not 
only for the official discipline of mainstream economics, but also for 
various contemporary anti-capitalist movements, which frequently reproduce 
'Adam's fallacy', inheriting the moral philosophy and dualisms that 
constitute this fallacy . Naturally, professional economists like Robert 
Solow , Brad DeLong and others have been quite actively seeking to dampen 
the book's impact. However, the book contains several lessons that are 
crucial for people interested or involved in social transformation, 
especially after the collapse of the major 20th century socialist 
experiments. In this regard, Radical Notes (RN) decided to forward a few 
questions to Prof Duncan K Foley (DKF) for his responses, which we 
reproduce here. Readers might find other articles that we published earlier 
on the book helpful.

RN: You have distinctly mentioned right in the beginning of Adam's Fallacy 
that for you this fallacy resides in the compartmentalization of spheres of 
life into the economic and the rest of social life. And you consider this 
dualistic view of social life as the essence of political economy and 
economics. Can you please elaborate on this? If this dualism is ideological 
can we understand it as essential for the reproduction of capitalist social 
life?

DKF: The specific fallacy is Smith's claim that the pursuit of 
self-interest, which has to be balanced against regard for others in other 
human interactions, can be trusted to lead to good outcomes both for 
oneself and others in the context of competitive market interactions. This 
idea has reconciled many people to the morally troubling consequences of 
capitalist development. It leads, as I show in the book, to the development 
of political economy and modern economics as discourses which claim a 
"scientific" status but whose content is in one way or another a discussion 
of this moral philosophical question. The dualism may not be essential for 
capitalist reproduction, but it seems to me to be an inevitable outgrowth 
of the contradictions of capitalist social relations.

RN: Many radical political economists have opined that underlying 
neoliberalism there is a politics of separating the political from the 
economic. According to them this separation has a specific significance 
through which the influence of popular politics, especially that of the 
working class, is neutralized. By alienating the power of economic 
decision-making from the democratic institutions, and bestowing it on 
market forces and financial and other supra-national bureaucratic 
institutions, the capitalist forces disarm the subversive influences of the 
counter-hegemonic forces. Do you think this is the theological-political 
role of the neoliberal reformulation of Adam's Fallacy?

DKF: This is a good example of Adam's Fallacy. But note that, when it finds 
it convenient to do so, neoliberal discourse connects politics and 
economics in the formulation that democracy and free markets are 
preconditions for each other's development. The content of democracy is 
often hostile to the neoliberal worldview, since voters do like measures 
increasing their economic security, redistributing income, and regulating 
the excesses of capitalist development. (They also like rising standards of 
living when capitalist development manages to deliver them.) The history of 
the twentieth century also throws doubt on the other half of this claim, 
since authoritarian political regimes have frequently been the sponsors of 
"free" market economic institutions.

full: http://radicalnotes.com/content/view/33/30/

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