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Postmodernism contra Economic Justice

Postmodernism contra Economic Justice

Economist David Harvey wrote, "This is what the bourgeois political economists have done: they have treated value as a fact of nature, not a social construction arising out of a particular mode of production."– we live in a postmodern culture where abstractions that rely on false scarcity become the rules of our society that dictate access to material superabundance are treated, often fatally, as materially constant and enforced, above all, as rules a capitalist postmodern state exists to service, rather than the needs of the citizens who constitute it in a real democracy.

Postmodernism has been a highly debated and often criticized movement in various fields, including economics; Marxian economic reality is almost entirely, on a conceptual level, fixated on what is value and how it is derived and what is material and immaterial, the latter of which is almost entirely what postmodernism seeks to enshrine as equally valid and real to hold as a law of nature. Postmodernism's rejection of objective truth and universal values has been seen by some as a threat to the validity of empirical research and scientific progress; some economists have used postmodernism as a framework for analyzing the impact of cultural and social factors on economic phenomena, particularly in the context of urban design and planning, and when viewed from the perspective of a materialist, this is the material fallout from the enforcement of postmodernist thought as the gatekeeper of to whom capital belongs and is accessible to, the question of alienation of labor aside for a moment for the purpose of demonstrating the harm done in material ways through social standards enforced on an immaterial basis.

Harvey is one such econonomist who has applied Marxist analysis to understand the role of postmodernism in shaping urban landscapes, arguing that postmodernism has contributed to the fragmentation of urban space and the commodification of culture, leading to the creation of exclusive enclaves for the wealthy and the displacement of marginalized communities– this, as many note, rarely yields more just or democratic outcomes, but has created further opporunities for the question of who gets tomake decisions in a society and why, and in a Marxian interpretation of economic reality, those who hold capital make the rules. By examining the ways in which postmodernism has influenced urban design and planning, Harvey highlights the importance of considering social and cultural factors in economic analysis, and in a scenario like this, we see a very basic example of how capital drives material outcomes on the basis of abstract immaterial rules about holding capital.

This is also a system encouraged by those who understand the inherent manipulability of such a system; we hear about all manner of financial crime, but also conduct that is inherently criminal when considered from the perpsective of almost every moral or ethical framework, everything from more abstract examples like real estate speculation to overt Ponzi schemes to wage theft and union busting, encouraging the privatization of public utilities (which inherently changes the intent from the administrator from for the public's service to at the public's expense; this is objectively the only reason private enterprise exists, to profit, and so with it comes austerity). One important trend in modern economics that does attempt to address this (and I've written about this extensively, so I won't do so again here, other than to explain where it is positioned in our society, relative to the material, in this process) is the increasing use of game theory to understand strategic interactions and analyze unintended (and intended, in the case of malicious actors) consequences by providing a framework for understanding how individuals and organizations make decisions in situations where their outcomes are dependent on the actions of others. This has important implications for market regulation, as it allows policymakers to anticipate the emergence of bad actors as new securities become popular (i.e. the 2008 crisis was the result of poorly understood financial instruments becoming load bearing when they had no reason to be because these outcomes for these loans was anticipatable, but so abstract even real estate professionals had limited understanding of the consequences while the banks actively sought to create that condition).

Game theories developed by experts like John Nash, whose work on non-cooperative game theory has been instrumental in understanding strategic interactions in a wide range of contexts, but most notably in economics along with moral philosophers like John Rawls have contributed to the development of game theory in such economic-state contexts in particularly, by examining the ethical implications of different strategies and outcomes, incorporating game theory into market regulation, policymakers can (and often do, but fail to act) better anticipate the behavior of market participants and take steps to prevent fraud and other forms of market manipulation. While Rawls' work focused on moral philosophy and the principles of justice, and Nash's work focused on the mathematics of game theory, both (the procedural and metaphysical machinations of "player" behavior, respectively, represented in theorist form) have recognized the existence of unethical behavior in markets and have proposed ways to address it absent this collapse (and so far, the US has demonstrated unprecedented levels of tolerance for the lowering of expectations with the heightening of demand on individuals; a direct result of postmodernism); Rawls argued for a fair distribution of resources and opportunities, while Nash proposed the use of game theory to anticipate bad actors and prevent market manipulation to codify/identify where decision making and ethics (legalism, in this case, for a market) can be dictated as conduct that can be gamed out. I recognize the connection between postmodernism and game theory may not be immediately apparent when taken in this context, but they both represent important trends in modern economics heavily using postmodernism to analyze the impact of social and cultural factors on economic phenomena, and using game theory to understand strategic interactions and analyze unintended consequences, economists can gain a more nuanced understanding of the complex dynamics of modern markets, where the immaterial results in the material (economic conditions, purely abstract, influencing outcomes for non-abstract things like food deserts, housing crises, layoffs of workers rather than the executives who failed int heir objective but because they are measured abstractly compared to workers measured minutely, can defend reamining on while the vulnerable are terminated in this "free market" of "at-will" employment). This understanding can then be applied to inform more effective market regulation policies, which take into account both economic and ethical considerations; in the event if, and when, this fails to occur, Marx presupposes that this is where revolution comes from the collapse of state-economic legitimacy. The bottom of the J curve of rising expectation, beginning to beng back up.

The competing conceptions of what to do with this problem of postmodernism are multifarious: Harvey argues that Marxist theory needs to be revised to accommodate the complexities of modern markets, and that traditional Marxist emphasis on capitalist production relations is insufficient to fully understand modern markets, which are, as discussed, increasingly influenced by not only postmodernism thought but material outcomes and attitudes about access to better ones influenced by postmodernism's influence on regulation. A theorist like Bertell Ollman argues that Marxism needs to be reimagined to include postmodernism, which has destabilized traditional Marxist concepts like class and labor; postmodernism again having an effect on how we interpret even other abstractions (class) that stem from relationship to the material (labor, alienation from, and constituted of whom). Marx himself recognized that markets are inherently prone to unethical behavior, with individuals pursuing their own self-interest at the expense of others making the basis of this discussion of what to do with such a system rather limited if, like both Harvery and Ollman argue, this condition, too, be synthesized into the dialectic (constituting, I might argue, the sort of "abuse" Ollman has warned against if the goal is Marxism and not merely Marxian understanding of unjust systems). Both Rawls and Nash proposed ways to address this issue, with Rawls suggesting a veil of ignorance (One management theory example describes this as: "Rawls suggests that you imagine yourself in an original position behind a veil of ignorance. Behind this veil, you know nothing of yourself and your natural abilities, or your position in society. You know nothing of your sex, race, nationality, or individual tastes.") to encourage fair behavior and Nash proposing that market participants should consider the effects of their actions on the entire market; representing how much individual accountability or collective accountability should bear for what is simultaneously both an individual choice in a collectiveabstraction (the economy) but also the process of determining your (individual) access to capital (a strcutrual question). Some theorists have argued that a postmodern system is fundamentally flawed and that no amount of regulation could make it just or fair, as postmodernism destabilizes moral norms and challenges traditional ethical frameworks; this is what is meant when I say postmodernism is the central problem underlying most injustice, and the dynamics under late capitalism, where this condiion of endless regulation to respond to endless wrongdoing and attempts to exploit is forever ongoing rather than the state adapting to changing material conditions to ensure fairness and just distribution, make this the perfect avatar for the problem I am describing.


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