[iDC] "recursive publics"

Dean, Jodi JDEAN at hws.edu
Sat Jul 11 16:55:55 UTC 2009

This is in response to some of remarks on capitalism and 'recursive publics.'

I said-- in a market, the agreement of buyer and seller makes something just; this is understood as price (under the assumption that markets achieve equilibrium).

>Christ says that this is "a poor representation of the market as an instrument of justice.  It's not just price that markets are supposed to provide--price is a proxy for distributive justice, under assumptions of scarcity >and individual self interest.  When a market works, it works to find the best price for the most people, based on which scarce Goods they want the most.  Obviously the assumptions are the lame part, but the >*mechanism* is what keeps people coming back to it--a large scale, impersonal, algorithm for making hard decisions about allocation amongst heterogenous desires.  Take it or leave it, but give it its due."

I do not think that the market is an instrument of justice. In fact, I would say that the claim that the market is an instrument of justice is a political claim and moves the discussion into a political terrain. Again,
questions of justice are political/moral claims.  My own view is that markets are terrible mechanisms for 'making hard decisions about allocation amongst hetereogeneous desires'-- primarily because they begin from
self-interest rather than collective interest (but that's only one of many reasons--include also inequality, exploitation, short-term mindsets, boom-bust cycles and instability, monetarization of basic goods/needs, etc).

At this point, I don't find the term recursive publics useful. I reviewed Warner's book a number of years ago and have a critique of his use of publics. My book Publicity's Secret goes through the Habermasian
version of the concept and criticizes that. What's particularly fascinating in Chris's version is the way that a 'mindset' shared by a group of technocrats who are not accountable to anyone but themselves can somehow position itself as a 'public', presumably carrying with it the moral/political connotations from the 18th century. This is alarming in part because this group/mindset is pro-capitalist yet positions itself as somehow
neutral.  (Fred Turner's critical approach to the rise of cyberculture provides an important contrast to the kind of account Chris gives).
Chris's idea of 'massive distributed regulatory action' sounds to me like another way of talking about the way that complex states work--accept for the fact that the regulations have not been
discussed or chosen  by anyone who is accountable to an electorate and for the fact that the regulations are the one's that the 'geeks' themselves want to make. It makes me think about the 
finance sector as a group of institutions carrying out a 'massive distributed regulatory action'--which actually meant that that made as much money as they could for as long as they could until
they crashed, taking the rest of the world down with them.

Chris says:  " most geeks believe in some version of capitalism--indeed, many want to save capitalism from the capitalists."

If that's the case then I want to be part of a movement (but not a recursive public) that will save us from the geeks.


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