Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupation and Enclosure

Here's a very interesting document on the occupation movement and popular economics.

Let's be clear, though, to avoid any confusion: humans have always engaged in diverse forms of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption. What the concept of "the economy" did, in its specific historical form, was to create a kind of conceptual enclosure around a very particular set of human rationalities, motivations, social activities, and ways of life. Economic theory said: self-interest is the legitimate, and natural, economic motivation. Exclusive, individual private property is the legitimate, and efficient, way to organize access to resources and the means of livelihood. Accumulation of wealth (and the fear of poverty) is the legitimate incentive that will generate human well-being. Wage labor (a world divided into owners and workers) is the way to organize effective and innovative economies. Competition is the dynamic that generates efficiency in production and exchange. Bundle all of these things together, publish books about their necessity and build institutions on their certainty, lock the rest of life's complexity and possibility in a closet (or a jail) and call that ... economics. 
The physical enclosures that drove people from their common land and forced them into dependence on wage jobs over the course of the 16th to 18th centuries in Europe, and that robbed indigenous peoples of their lives and land, were accompanied and supported by the conceptual enclosures that made the story of "the economy." These are two sides of the same coin. And this process of double enclosure is ongoing. It is called "privatization," "colonialism," "neoliberalism," "development," and "economics 101."v The economy has to be made continually, and it is made by institutions that enforce this story on us, that put us in debt to its dependency-machine, that steal our labor, our ideas and our futures in the name of our own best interests. It is made by convincing us that its story is true, and then punishing us when we fail to act accordingly. 
I find this argument about the conceptual enclosure effected by neoclassical economics to be very liberating. And on the day when NYC police used force to re-enlose Zucotti Park, it's good to be reminded of these larger signs of hope.

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