The National Cathedral

So, yes, I did follow the funeral for George H.W. Bush, the 41st, today, on NPR News.

Image result for national cathedral bush

And, like many of you, I felt conflicting emotions. Not so much because I admire the man (I do not), but because I admire and am connected to the institution. I am an Episcopalian. So was the 41st. So were many, many of the last 45 Presidents.

And so here we are at the National Cathedral, facing a question central to our identities; the relationship between power and emancipation. Not all religious communities face this question in the same way as Episcopalians. Along with Unitarians, Quakers, and Congregationalists, we have a very special relationship to the institutions of our country. When we separated from England, we did not, by any means, separate from power. We assumed it. We embraced it.

And so I listen to my Presiding Bishop, who is also the Presiding Bishop of the Bush family, celebrating a Mass not dissimilar from the Mass celebrated at the most lowly street-person’s funeral, in our tradition.

It is, on its face, democratizing. It presents the low and the high on the same scale. They are now equal.

But why the National Cathedral? Why this monument?

Let me suggest that power is real. Let me suggest that the thousands who lost their lives in Central and South America under George H.W. Bush’s government service — because of George H.W. Bush’s service — is an expression of power; which is not independent from Yale; which is not independent from oil; which is not independent from the National Cathedral.

In some religious traditions, faith and power need not be reconciled. In some traditions, faith has never occupied, is not at risk of occupying, power. Not in my tradition. Power faces faith every day, every moment. The question is: how do we face it?

Are we standing with Mary and the Disciples at the foot of the Cross, or are we standing with the Roman Guards? What I fear is that my tradition, often, regularly, traditionally, stands with the Roman Guards. Not that it does not see or appreciate or value the Palestinian Jew over whose death it has ritually observed. But, true to its form, it has overseen the death, the crucifixion, the execution, with dignity, poise, demeanor. I worry about this. Politics and power intersect faith. How do we do that? How should we?

Will We Survive Climate Change?

As someone deeply committed to climate change mitigation and reversal, there are few things that annoy me more than climate scientists who are oblivious — I mean completely oblivious — to social and political dimensions of climate change. So when brilliant climate scientists, such NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies’ Kate Marvel tells me how “it’s worth pointing out there is no scientific support for inevitable doom” (https://nyti.ms/2zkh7Fh), I literally want to pull my hair out; and not only because I have been breathing climate change into my lungs for the past two weeks (https://nyti.ms/2DvEcHY).

“Inevitable”? Well, no. But the problem with Dr Marvel’s claim is that her science will tell us absolutely nothing — zip — about the kinds of things we need to know in order to determine whether or not we are doomed. Climate science tells us nothing about political, social, and cultural currents. It tells us nothing about how or even whether we can elect enough policy makers to mitigate climate change in time. So, yes, theoretically today we could adopt and implement policies that will stave off disaster. But will we? Will it be enough? Will it be in time? Climate science has absolutely no answers to these questions. Which is why we must walk to the other side of the campus, to Political Science, Sociology, Social Policy, and Economics, where very bright women and men work tirelessly on other sciences (yes, sciences, social sciences) to find the cracks through which climate change mitigation has a chance of prevailing.

“Inevitable”? Not even Dr Marvel’s science promises 100 per cent certainty. So let me simply identify — scientifically — three of the leading headwinds:

  1. The policy-makers are paid employees of the carbon emitters. Nowhere is this more true than in today’s Washington and in many of the United States’ capitals. But it is also true even in nations whose very shores and air are currently experiencing the consequences of climate change. Scientifically, we can measure how much it costs — not much — to turn a district into a climate change denying district (see http://opensecrets.org).
  2. Gorgias’ “Fine Art. Gorgias is the rhetorics teacher in Plato’s early dialogue, The Gorgias, who claims he is able to teach anyone how to convince non-experts that he or she is an expert. Plato’s point is that until citizens are equipped to distinguish BS from non-BS they will have to rely upon “experts” who, presumably, will break roughly 50-50, on the BS scale. Nationally, as spending on education per capita has declined, spending on prisons has risen proportionally (https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/california-expenditures-corrections-and-public-education). Which means that ever fewer among us are equipped to differentiate Gorgias’ “fine art” from real scholarship.
  3. Short- and Long-Term InterestsSocial scientists have known for some time that wealth, education, and security give social actors the luxury of reflecting and planning for a world beyond the present. As social actors are pushed ever closer to the line — on employment security, healthcare, housing, education, and old age expectations — they are compelled to spend more of their time planning for the present. Globally, social actors are everywhere losing the battle over long-term interests. Not simply income inequality, but war, famine, ethno-religious nationalism, many of which are secondary effects of climate change, are forcing social actors to devote more of their attention to the here and now.

“Inevitable”? Well, no. But the problem is that science, narrowly defined, as Dr Marvel defines it, has absolutely nothing to tell us about the likelihood of resolving this problem. Which gives us some idea as to where we ought to be throwing massive resources: into protecting public institutions from private self-interest, transferring wealth and its benefits back down the income hierarchy to the working families who generated them, expanding and lowering the consumer costs of education.

Short of this the only other alternative is the long feared and hoped for benevolent dictator, who will do the “right thing” irrespective of public will.

Economic Geography

Economic Geography could be a more rigorous version of economics. Unfortunately it is not. Instead it combines and features many of the most trenchant weaknesses of both disciplines: of geography’s methodological individualism and economics’ transhistoricism. Economic geography could be more rigorous than economics were it to derive its interpretive categories immanently from the social and historical landscapes it purports to be interpreting. Instead, it often fluctuates between merely oppositional interpretive frames, on the one hand, and fairly crude base-superstructure economic analysis on the other. An immanent critique invites economic geographers to explore the historically and socially specific ways that the commodity form of capital both supplies the interpretive categories adequate to the capitalist social form while simultaneously pointing beyond them.

Oppositional interpretive frames often successfully identify the tensions within a geographic and/or discursive field, but impose a directionality upon this field transcendentally. Labor/capital is the prototypical oppositional form that invites transcendental adjudication (most often in favor of labor). But geographic and/or discursive fields produce a potentially endless network of oppositions for research: race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, wealth, language, and age offering only the most obvious points of opposition. An immanent critique, by contrast, invites us to explore how these oppositions are themselves composed within a socially and historically differentiated, but nevertheless coherently mediated, totality. So, for example, the labor/capital opposition resolves itself into the commodity form, where both labor and capital may be understood in terms of their two-fold perdurance as abstract value and material form of appearance. Resolving this two-fold form in favor of one or the other sides in this dynamic fails to recognize the immanent, mutually constitutive character of both.

Unfortunately, the traditional Marxist base-superstructure often serves economic geographers both as foundation and foil in the pursuit of research. Whenever spatial or temporal data points are referred back to economic fundamentals, we have, by any other name, a divided field where interpretive categories (but only of the bourgeoisie) are held to be inadequate where generated by bourgeois science, but adequate when generated from the vantage point of the (speculative) proletariat — restored, universal humanity. Or, more often, by contrast (rejecting this productivist frame), economic geographers focus exclusively on the discursive field, in isolation from its practical constitution. An immanent critique would invite economic geographers to recognize the relative historical validity of economic categories, but then to focus their criticism less on the obfuscatory character of these categories than on their historically and socially limited character; not in contrast to supposedly “natural” or “universal” interpretive categories, but with an aim toward specifying their adequacy and contrasting it to other possible ways of mediating social relations.

The specific interpretive frames offered within economic geography are no mystery. Nor is the alternative I am suggesting. They both emerge historically in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They are both embedded historically and socially. And, yet, an immanent critique is better able not only to grasp the complexities of economic geography, but also to shed light on a path out of the social totality that continues to plague social scientific research.

Farenheit 11-9

Went to see Fahrenheit 11-9 this afternoon, Michael Moore’s new movie, with my friend Anna. Yes, the irony of the election night trajectory. Yes, the anti-democratic, self-destructive suppression of Sanders. Yes, the Flint, Michigan, racialist targeting of black Michigan by Rick Snyder. (Was he a model for Donald Trump?) Yes, Stoneman Douglas and the strong spirit of the survivor students. Yes, scholarly — NYU and Yale — validation that the “fascist” attribution is more than vitriol. Yes, the left militancy of the rising stars on the left. How do you narrate this story together?

Image result for fahrenheit 11-9

Not as Michael Moore narrated it. Which is not to say you shouldn’t see it. You should. Each segment is an award-winning documentary short. But, strung together? Meh.

What Moore is trying to grasp is a still reversible spirit; think the “Goebbels Project” but early on. Moore wants to say, we’re almost there — almost really fascist — but that there are counter-movements that are still very active. From that vantage point, the sharp juxtapositions of positive and negative, hopeful and pessimistic, offer fodder for discussion. It is a thought piece. Good.

But, unlike, say, Fahrenheit 9-11, which documented a descent into authoritarianism; or Bowling, which offered us a critique of the military-industrial complex — the central message of 11-9 remains buried and burdened by the layers through which it must climb to present itself.

That message is that the Democratic Party has sold out its working class constituents. Yes. The Christian Democrats and Liberals needed to migrate toward nationalist ideals (and away from Social Democrat and Communist ideals) in order to finally be compromised by fascism. They helped make fascism appear acceptable, much as the Democratic leadership were the opening act for Trump.

But this would suggest a narration that guides us to a coherent account of the mechanisms at play in this transition from — as Moore reminds us, in polling data — liberal, progressive America to fascist outcomes.

Yes. Progressives were deeply, fundamentally, absolutely disillusioned by Clinton and Obama. (The Obama sequence in Flint is for the ages.) They were aghast at a Party that so baldly and boldly and anti-democratically eliminated its own base. The margin in 2016 was far smaller than the disenfranchised excluded by the Democratic National Committee. And Moore’s highlight of candidates who are fighting the DNC is truly inspiring. I hope they win.

But the social and cultural and political analysis is at best weak and mostly non-existent. Moore  lets the events speak for themselves, which they never do. Moore wants the underlying moral weight of the narrative to justify itself. It never does. The implication, but only the implication, of Moore’s documentary is that democrats in general and the DNC in particular are complicit. But how?

The fascists have a clear narrative. In 1960 at best 10 per cent of the public shared this narrative. But the base, funded by wealthy patrons, kept the narrative alive. The left has never had a popular narrative. Their “narrative” was the close to $4.8B the public spent defeating the Japanese and Germans. Their “narrative” was: look what that $4.8B did to our economy. Bang.

Which means that when Germany and Japan recover and begin competing with the US, the progressives have absolutely no response. We should spend lots of public money to defeat . . . drugs . . . crime . . . poverty. Without the least recognition that it is the public distribution of the social franchise down the income hierarchy that generated the growth of the 1940s 50s and 60s.

Instead, the elites within the Democratic Party promoted a counter-narrative about free markets and free trade, that actually bore no empirical relationship whatsoever to the realities of the 1940s and 1950s. Sorry, but JFK’s narrative about the free world? It was a total fabrication.

Instead of wrapping his narrative around this clear economic story, Moore elected a moral narrative; that actually muddies and muddles his story.

But it also muddies and muddles the story of working families. And that, principally, is the problem with Moore’s take.

 

Moishe Postone

This Monday I participated in a celebration of the life and work of my dissertation advisor, Moishe Postone, who fell victim to a specially aggressive cancer at way too young an age. Since I met Moishe there is not a day I have not thought about him. Whatever scholarly success I have met I owe in large part to Moishe.

Image result for moishe postone

Moishe served as co-chair, with Michael Geyer, on my dissertation committee (PhD, U Chicago, History, ’99). And I blame him, in part, for my never landing an appointment in history. My dissertation (and then book) offered a socially and historically embedded account for why Max Weber’s predictions of secularization, institutionalization, and disenchantment failed to materialize and why the most vigorously capitalist social formations proved also to be the most “spiritual.” Moishe’s reading of GWF Hegel and K Marx provided an answer: the value form of the commodity is the sublime form theorized by Immanuel Kant and then retheorized by GWF Hegel.

Because he isolated the transcendental value form from its material form of appearance, Max Weber never fully appreciated how deeply this form penetrated his and Marianne’s Sonntagskreise. Weber believed that this transcendental experience, which he shared with, among many others, Ernst Bloch and Georg von Lukacs, intervened from outside the “iron cage.” I argued otherwise.

But now I lecture in economics. And I have often struggled with how to bring Moishe’s insights to bear on a field to which he himself was only tangentially related. What I have discovered is how closely Karl Marx’s notion of abstract value parallels the treatments of his near contemporaries, William Stanley Jevons and Leon Walras. Because by the 1860s it was already clear that abstract value was the substance mediating social relations. What distinguished Karl Marx’s research from theirs is that Marx recognized the social and historical specificity of this social form. And he recognized its dynamic internal structure. Think Phenomenology §§18-19 and how dynamic GWF Hegel’s misrecognized spirit is. Marx recognized this socio-historical connection. And, by contrast to so many Marxian social theorists, Moishe Postone saw what Marx saw, and what I now see.

But, apart from this uniquely capitalist spiritual form, Moishe was observant. He was Jewish in a way I was not. Embedded deep in my own family’s past, Weiman became Wyman, and Jews became Christians; or, rather, they became Unitarians and transcendentalists. Personally I have resisted “spirituality.” I am convinced it is a surrogate of the value form. Which is why I prefer to think of myself as observant, as religious, not spiritual.

I am not inviting my students to leap over their own shadows. I am inviting them to reflect critically about the possibilities of real emancipation facing them. Not because a “natural” or “naturalized” class removed from the commodity form has appeared in our midst, but because here, not elsewhere, they can chart a course forward from a domination they comprehend to a freedom that is not unconstrained. These constraints mean that the path lends itself to modeling.

In his rejection of unmediated explanations of emancipation and domination, I believe that Moishe prepared me to think critically about economics; yes, of course, always as a surface expression of deeper social mediations. But I think that what Moishe never entirely grasped or at least never expressed was the degree to which neoclassical economics had moved beyond the rigid categories fetishized by so-called “Marxist” and “Marxian” theorists. He never fully grasped or at least never expressed how deeply contemporary neoclassical economics is a science of the “self-moving substance that is subject.”

And, yet, this I also learned from my mentor Moishe Postone.

Kristallnacht, Again

I am recalling a graduate course I took at the University of Chicago back in 1992 devoted to Carl Schmitt. Schmitt was the guy snapped up by Josef Goebbels in 1932 to head up the Nazi legal team. For four months we poured over Professor Schmitt’s works. Without question, Carl was a complex figure, as complex as any who served Chancellor Hitler.

Image result for kristallnacht

Better than anyone else, Professor Schmitt understood the political character of law. Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court reinforces the validity of this judgment. Law is political. Politics is law.

Obviously, as much as Professor Schmitt’s appointment, so Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment, is politically significant. The point I believe significant is that law — which is always politically significant — is not always obviously political. When law becomes obviously political, we have entered a different moment.

When a President can rally a political audience in support of sexual violence this marks a sea change in the political character of law; a sea change as significant as Kristallnacht, when Germans felt authorized to raze Jewish Synagogues and did so.

Yes. Law is political. Law plays parties against one another. And, yes, over the past thirty years, law has been gradually, slowly, lethargically creeping toward gender equality. We are now seeing a rebellion against gender equality. Mississippi exposes a deep crease, a breach, in the logic of gender equality. Large numbers of women doubt Professor Ford’s testimony. Large numbers of women are ready to cheer as a President mocks a victim of sexual violence.

And here we are again. It is 1932. My synagogue has been set on fire. Senators Collins and Manchin are turning their backs. Let it burn.

We have lost the political battle. It is now the day after 1932. It is now 1933. Brett Kavanaugh, the tipping point, is now installed. Now what?

Now what? Yes. Law is political. Which means that we empty into the streets, every day, every hour. We show our numbers against theirs. We drain them. 1932 is not a new normal. We cannot back down. Everything we love and live for is at stake. We must drop everything.

Ironically, the US has just become extra-judicial. Law no longer rules. Politics rules. The party that wins is critical, truly.

The New Frontier: Economic Geography

For the past month I have been negotiating a new department and a new field: Economic Geography. Economic Geography is not Economics. It is much closer to Geography. And, yet, its literature is not unfamiliar.

For six years I have been trying to master the field of Economics. Economics is not my original field. That would be history. Nevertheless, like history, Economics affects a kind of agnosticism. “Just the facts, Ma’am,” as Joe Friday might say. Economic Geography, by contrast, bores down into a neighborhood, a city, a region and maps the relationships out of which it is composed, usually, but not always, with a socio-economic, political punch-line.

In Economics, I have approached this same terrain armed with a battery of models I have had to tweak to render them useful. What is the marginal utility of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, immigration status, class? What I have found powerful about the Economic model — its capacity to display these fault lines — is downplayed in Economic Geography, because the fault lines are assumed (and, mostly, assumed to be bad). Which is to say that there is an assumed moral taxonomy playing in the background; playing much louder than in Economics. So, for example, in Economics students are interested in the marginal benefit wealth enjoys because the marginal cost in transportation time is so much higher than it is for employees further down on the income hierarchy. Employees living in the valley but working at SFO endure far lower absolute costs than CEOs who live five minutes from work. Is this a moral question? What does the model tell us? What does it conceal?

In Economic Geography, by contrast, it is wrong that employees travel so far. Disclosing the economic geography of a region is held to expose what is wrong. The models are unnecessary as are the historical and social contexts.

Oddly then there is a surprising lack of self-reflexivity not among the Economists, who are eager to learn about the history underwriting their categories, but among the Economic Geographers, who already know in advance where the truth lies. If economists are priests, economic geographers are prophets. I find this troubling.

At the same time, the object of teaching is illuminating enough of a terrain to let students negotiate it themselves; even to shed light on features I have not noticed. So I am ploughing ahead.

The End

I always feel lost at the end of a semester. For sixteen weeks I have poured out my soul. Where will it go?

Sometimes, often, I wish that the story I had to tell were more positive. Unfortunately the sciences are compelled to tell stories where there is little room for error. After all is said and done the production function persists: MPL = ΔQ/ΔL or ΔK. We could wish that this were not true — that the marginal product of labor did not equal the change in quantity of some good over the change in the quantity of labor (or capital) required to compose that quantity of goods. We are driven inexorably toward increasing the marginal product of labor.

Image result for hilgaard scenic north berkeley gardener

One of the things we can learn at university is that this has not always been so; and that it need not be so. Rather than making more with less; we could instead be making less with more. We could be attending to the constraints imposed by Creation. How do we honor these constraints? How do we learn to value them?

While preparing dinner tonight I observed — as I have observed for almost eighteen years — a woman, slightly older than I am, tending the garden of the house across from mine. Although spright and lean, she does not conceal her years. She climbs her ladder proudly, but carefully. But it is her attention to the hedges that attracts me. She seems to focus on each branch, on each leaf. The product is astonishingly beautiful. Our neighbor’s, Sarah’s, garden is not the only one she maintains. I see her around and about. But for eighteen years I have seen her dutifully, but elegantly, mount her ladder and apply her clippers. She is maintaining a garden.

Though I cannot imagine how, it must support her. But then I think about my own work. I imagine some graduate student or tenured professor peering over my shoulder, marveling at the attention I give my students and their science. This garden is absolutely important, central, critical to everything we do. I am sure that tenured faculty and aspiring graduate students marvel at this work. “Why does he do it?” “Why at these modest wages and precarious future does he bother?” “Why does he publish? Why does he persist?”

In some weird, convoluted way, I then recognize that I am the master of this field, its true connoisseur, admiring its roots, soil and branches. Next to me, there are others who work in this field. They do good work. I mount my ladder with dignity and poise, my age showing, and I teach.

 

Public Goods

In standard economese (an esoteric language spoken only by economists), a “public good” is any good that is “non-rival” and “non-excludable.” When a good is non-rival, anyone’s consumption of that good does not make any other person’s consumption more costly: think pre-cable television or net-neutral internet. A good is non-excludable when I cannot prevent someone from consuming it for free. So, for example, clean air and water by this definition are not “public goods.” Nor, apparently, is voting for citizens, or campaign contributions — to say nothing of affordable healthcare, education, or reliable information. By the standard definition, these are at best what are called “common” or even “private” goods. The aim of militant market advocates is to make all goods private goods; how do we know their value if they don’t have a price?

I have two objections to this way of distinguishing among goods. My first and most basic objection is that no good — or not one I can think of off hand — is truly public in this sense. Take air. Now take air in today’s Beijing or LA circa 1970. While it certainly true that my consumption of particle-filled, carcinogenic Beijing air does not prevent the next victim from breathing it — in this sense it is non-rival — it is also true that not all consumers have equal access to the pure oxygen sold on street corners and vending machines. Clean water perhaps offers a better example. If I live in Flint, Michigan, or any number of “Flints” scattered across the free world, I am compelled to buy water off the shelf — in which case it is definitely not non-rival — or risk ingesting heavy metals and other toxins at levels that my body cannot sustain. Even formally free airwaves are so clogged with misinformation, disinformation, and all out lies that I must pay a premium (in superior education, leisure and political access) to learn how to distinguish what is worth and what is not worth following. Should there be goods that are non-rival and non-excludable? Maybe. But there aren’t.

My second objection, however, is that this definition of “public” applies nowhere else in the English lexicon. It appears specially formed and specially suited for cost-benefit analysis. Cost-benefit analysis, however, is a tool that applies uniquely to private goods, goods produced by and for private markets. This distinction between public and private goes way back to classical Greece, where thinkers were brought to distinguish between public things, shared among all citizens in a city; and private things, distributed among members of a private household. To this day, our English terms political (Greek πολιτεία) and private (Greek οἰκονομία) bear a close resemblance to their classical originals. Οἰκονομία is simply the science of private household (οἶκος) enterprise. Πολιτεία is both the space where and the process through which equally endowed citizens agree on the things they share in common. Its Latin equivalent, ironically, is res publica, the wealth we hold in common, or, in English, commonwealth. Here, it is the public itself that identifies what is or should be a public good (and therefore shared among all), and what is or should be a private good (enjoyed or endured within the private household, the οἶκος).

In this case, private goods lend themselves to marginal analysis. How much or little of a good a private household should produce or consume will always be a matter of trade-offs. Public goods, by contrast, are enjoyed irrespective of their cost. So, for example, once it is determined that clean drinking water should be available to all citizens, the public is therein authorized to make sure that this is so. Public goods, by this definition, may at any time be deemed private only when the public determines that it is so. Similarly, formerly private goods, lets say WiFi signals, may at some point and in some communities be deemed public, at which point the public is authorized to make WiFi equally available to all citizens.

Obviously should citizens desire a premium brand — pure oxygen, for example, by contrast to its mixed gas, real-world knock-off — then they are free to pay for it.

Do public goods give rise to private costs? Of course they do, both today as in classical Athens. And citizens must weigh these costs across a municipal, regional, state or national budget. And, yet, because these administrative bodies all enjoy the authority to tax themselves in order to achieve desirable public ends, they must always be in a position to decide whether the marginal benefit they derive from a public good is worth the “deadweight” loss or “misallocation” of resources — terms that in economese are heavily weighted in the direction of private markets. Perhaps a public that enjoys superior education is not a deadweight loss at all. Which raises the interesting question: how would a public responsibly determine whether it was or was not unless it enjoyed a superior education?

Ok. You economists or social scientists; am I right or am I right?

Neoliberalism is Liberal

This morning my Urban Economics seminar looked into Aurora Wallace’s “Mapping City Crime and the New Aesthetic of Danger.” In her article Wallace shows how the way these maps are designed “supports a neo-liberal agenda of individual responsibility over safety in the context of outsourced security” (J of visual culture 8(1):5). Wallace’s thesis reinforces the difficulty cities and citizens have even conceptualizing, much less cultivating, public space. Conceptually this difficulty arises out of framing “public goods” in private terms, so that we end up subjecting public good “markets” to the same metric as private goods. “Public goods” therein become a subset under “private goods.” At the same time, when we fold public goods into private goods we end up with a more consistent and faithful characterization of the city than when we arbitrarily isolate the two; begging the question: what is a public good?

In his Nicomachean Ethics and his Politics, Aristotle invited his students to qualitatively differentiate between πολιτεία and οἰκονομία. Πολιτεία is the formal space occupied by equally equipped citizens of the πόλις, the city. Οἰκονομία, by contrast, is both the practice and the science of managing the οἶκος, the private household economy. Aristotle readily admits that, although we may be political animals by nature (Pol. 1253a1-18), cities governed by free, equally equipped, citizens are the historical exception, not the rule. By far the most common ways of governing the πόλις are through despotism or tyranny. When a πόλις was governed tyrannically, its citizens were governed by rulers less qualified than themselves. When a πόλις was governed despotically, its citizens were counted as δοῦλοι (slaves or employees) within the despot’s (δεσπότης) private enterprise. Rarely, if ever — and certainly not in Aristotle’s Athens — did equally equipped citizens govern a city. And, in this sense, πολιτεύω or republican rule was far from natural. For, as Aristotle noted in his Politics, it was far more common to govern the πόλις as though it were a private enterprise, an οἶκος, where each individual is equipped differently and where individuals dominate or submit to one another.

From this vantage point, the capitalist social form entails the universalization of both the οἶκος, the private enterprise, and the principles that govern the οἶκος, i.e., οἰκονομία. So, for example, when “public goods” are evaluated in terms of their marginal benefit and marginal cost, they are, in fact, being treated as though they were private goods produced by the private enterprise for consumption not by citizens, but by consumers.

Our failure to be able to think of public goods in any other manner is specially troubling for “political” entities that count themselves “republics,” from the Latin equivalent (res publica) of the Greek πολιτεύω. Nothing could be more certain but that the framers of the US Constitution conceptualized the entity they were constituting as a commonwealth or republic. Absent a clear grasp of what a republic is, and how it differs from a tyranny or a despotism, “public” figures in the US have simply adopted the conceptual framework of the οἶκος and applied it indiscriminately to the πόλις.

These distinctions help us to better understand the rapid degeneration of  liberal democratic rule into neoliberal post-democratic rule. For, at least as an economic system, liberal means only that the social relations within a community are governed by free markets. From this vantage-point, from 1929 until 1972, the US grew increasingly illiberal. Beginning in the 1970s under President Carter, policy makers gradually reclaimed ever larger, broader, and deeper segments of American social life for free marketsLiberalism, then, is already neoliberal; or, we could say, neoliberalism is liberalism that has passed through a phase of illiberalism. From this vantage-point 1929-1972 is the anomaly. The rapid degeneration of the illiberal into neoliberalism could, on these grounds, be credited to the failure of policy makers to adequately distinguish πολιτεία from οἰκονομία, public space from private enterprise.

A more rigorous defense of republican values — here referring not to the US political party, but to traditional republicanism — would have clearly identified the equipment without which citizens would be ill-equipped to participate in government. This was precisely what Aristotle set forth in his lectures on Politics. As the American colonial expression has it, citizens in a republic needed to be equally “healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Since the survival of the republic depends upon these goods, they — i.e., healthcare, a living wage, and superior education — will not be made subject to the rules that govern the private enterprise, the οἶκος.

A “public good” is therefore not simply a private good that has public utility — water, roads, electricity, etc. — or that would be inefficiently or insufficiently supplied by private entities. A “public good” is any good that is necessary to equip all citizens to govern ενάρετα, or virtuously.

Turning back to Wallace’s article, we can now see that the liberal map of the city was already neoliberal, that the justification for the New Deal was principally, though not entirely, οικονομικός, i.e., economic. Between 1932 and 1972 a much stronger case had to be made, but was not made, for the public character of public goods. So long as the economy was growing and expanding, which for the most part it was from 1938 to 1968, the distinction between public and private hardly mattered. When it finally did matter, from 1968 forward, policy makers had either lost or, perhaps, never enjoyed a sufficient grasp of how public and private goods differed from one another. More disturbingly, I cannot think of a general economic textbook that fails to measure public goods in private terms: we have lost the capacity to even conceptualize in what this difference might even consist.

Unfortunately, this incapacity is not limited to post-democratic neoliberals. It cuts across methodological and even ideological lines. If therefore anything remotely like republican values and institutions are to be restored, we desperately need policy makers who enjoy a clear understanding of how public and private goods differ from one another. The alternative is an endless series of more or less despotic, more or less tyrannical public officials for whom the lines between public and private have completely disappeared.