Archive for November 16th, 2010

The Little State That Could

Before I forget, I was reminded last night about how, when it came to talking about the magnitude of the bank bailout, the public was regaled with a list of fun alternatives, like three kebabs from Abrakebabra every day for 6,000 years. Like here.

Well to hell with that. I was thinking about the joke Ha-Joon Chang makes in the Irish Times about how economists, in trying to address the problem of how to open a tin, assume that there’s a tin opener. We see a similar sort of thinking here.

The alternative allocations of resources floated assume the existence of an agency, namely the state, that might opt to allocate these resources in such a manner. That is, the state might bail out banks, but, under conditions not so radically different, it might also conceivably repair twice over the damage done to Haiti. Yet the possibility of the Irish state repairing the damage done to Haiti is more or less the same as the possibility of the cow jumping over the moon.

Do we not glimpse behind this sort of operation a fantasy of control over the institutions of state – that they are in fact primed to do our bidding, but a quixotic band of political ne’er-do-wells has its hands on the levers?

Whenever I turn on the TV, or radio, or look at a Twitter feed, there is this overwhelming sense that we are where we are purely on account of a series of catastrophic policy decisions. And there is no denying that there have been catastrophic decisions made.

But by confining our ideas about what is going on merely to the area of a range of potential decisions taken by government officials supplemented by the recommendations of assorted experts, are we not unconsciously engaging in a profound declaration that ‘we are where we are’?

If the state exists as it does, it is on account of relations of power. Seems to me that unless we have the means of expressing how the latter operate, and we can articulate how victories can be won in these terms, the consoling fantasies of the little state that could will see us sinking further into the shit.

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November 2010