Utopia - without classes

✑ DAVID F. RUCCIO | 803 words
‟I’m averse to various kinds of utopianism that characterize a great deal of modern economics.

Utopianism based on bitcoins, blockchain worlds and neoclassical economics ignores class exploitation, economist David F. Ruccio argues.

Originally published on David Ruccio's personal blog (Jan. 18, 2018).
About the author (click)
Dr. David F. Ruccio is a renowned marxian economist, professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame, where he has taught since 1982. He is also a member of the Higgins Labor Studies Program and the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He blogstweets, and contributes to the journal Rethinking Marxism (which he edited for twelve years), Real World Economics Review and Democracy at Work.

I’ll admit, I’m always intrigued by the discussion of utopia, especially in the midst of the current crises of capitalism. Something has to inspire people to engage in a ruthless criticism of the existing order and to imagine that things can be radically different from what they are.

The idea of utopia may be anathema to certain interpretations of Marxism — the more “scientistic” strands that one finds in the Marxian tradition. But for me, the notion of utopia, especially as it is informed by critique, is central to the Marxian intellectual and political project.

That said, I’m averse to various kinds of utopianism — as against a utopian moment or impulse — that characterize a great deal of modern economics. I’m referring, for example, to the utopianism that can be found within neoclassical economics, according to which, in a society based on private property and markets, individual choices can, at least in principle, lead to Pareto efficiency — a situation where no one can be made better off without making someone worse off. That general equilibrium, the perfect balance of limited means and unlimited desires, represents the utopian horizon — in both theory and policy — of neoclassical economics.

You see, the possibility of that perfect balance serves to justify any and all manner of attempts to create the conditions leading to such a utopia. If there are markets, they need to be free of any and all interventions. (Think, for example, of the labor market, which must be shorn of any regulation, such as a minimum wage.) And if there aren’t markets (for example, for financial derivatives), then they need to be created (and kept unregulated) in order to achieve an efficient allocation of resources.

And we know the results of that particular utopianism. Naomi Klein has collected many of the examples — from Pinochet’s Chile to post-Katrina New Orleans — in her Shock Doctrine. And, of course, we’re still living through the devastation of the crash of September 2008. In all those cases, and many more, neoclassical economists and the powers that be outside the discipline of economics have taken as their goal, and sought by whatever means to create the conditions to achieve, the utopia of Pareto efficiency.

Marxism is not such a utopianism. Or better: Marxism as I read it is not based on the kind of utopianism that characterizes neoclassical economics. It does, however, have a utopian moment — a sense that existing forms of capitalism can be and should be criticized and that measures should be taken to move in a radically different, noncapitalist direction.

So, I read with some interest Steven Johnson’s recent discussion of the utopian dimensions of the Bitcoin bubble. His view is that, while Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies “may seem like the very worst of speculative capitalism” (they are, as far as I am concerned, which I have explained to my students and many other people), the underlying technology of those currencies — the blockchain — represents the open-protocol ethos of the original internet (before it was hijacked by corporate behemoths like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple).

‟Right now, the only real hope for a revival of the open-protocol ethos lies in the blockchain. Whether it eventually lives up to its egalitarian promise will in large part depend on the people who embrace the platform, who take up the baton, as Juan Benet puts it, from those early online pioneers. If you think the internet is not working in its current incarnation, you can’t change the system through think-pieces and F.C.C. regulations alone. You need new code."

Sounds good. The problem with Johnson’s code-based egalitarian promise is that it looks a lot like the utopianism of neoclassical theory. It’s all about “self-sovereign” individual identities and decentralized transactions, exactly the kind of world envisioned by neoclassical economists, from Carl Menger, William Stanley Jevons, and Léon Walras through Gérard Debreu, Kenneth Arrow, and Paul Samuelson right on down to Olivier Blanchard, Greg Mankiw, and Richard Thaler. The world they all imagine is populated by individuals who have something to sell: time or goods in the case of neoclassicals, attention according to Johnson. And if property rights are secured and voluntary transactions completed, a free-market utopia can be achieved.

But there are no classes — and therefore no class exploitation or class struggles — in those neoclassical and blockchain worlds. There’s lots of freedom but no freedom from the conditions and consequences of one class exploiting another class. There’s even the utopian promise of equality. But equality among individuals in the world of market exchange and blockchain platforms is perfectly compatible with the extraction of a surplus by one class from another.

Criticizing class exploitation and working to finally eliminate it form the utopian dimensions of the kind of project that interests me.

Independent, undogmatic. Read more about SE here.

Through facebook, twitterrss, by visiting this website each weekend (we publish on Fridays), or subscribe to our weekly emails:

to help you browse through our content ↴

Current Affairs

The News on the Economy: It’s Not What It Should Be
DEAN BAKER ╱ Feb. 17, 2018 ╱ 5,268 words

About that Stock Panic
DOUG HENWOOD ╱ Feb. 10, 2018 ╱ 2,248 words
more current affairs (click)

The Current Conflict In Spain Has A Lot to Do With Economic Failure
MARK WEISBROTNov. 10, 2017 1,319 words

Catalonia: The Problems and Errors of the Independence Movement
Nov. 10, 2017 2,824 words

Catalonia: A Democratic Opportunity
MIREIA VEHÍ & ALBERT NOGUERA ╱ Nov. 10, 2017 ╱ 2,642 words

Puerto Rico: When It Rains, It Pours
MICHAEL ROBERTS ╱ Oct. 20, 2017 ╱ 2,265 words

Global Power

Hunger in the Name of Development: Rwandan Farmers Under Stress
AN ANSOM ╱ March 17, 2018 ╱ 1,583 words

The CFA Franc: French Monetary Imperialism in Africa
NDONGO SAMBA SYLLA ╱ Feb. 10, 2018 ╱ 1,489 words
more global power (click)

Monetary Imperialism
MICHAEL HUDSON ╱ Feb. 2, 2018 ╱ 3,391 words

What About China?
IMMANUEL WALLERSTEINDec. 1, 20179,69 words

The Demise of the Third World Agenda
VIJAY PRASHAD ╱ Nov. 3, 2017 ╱ 1,459 words

Globalization and the End of the Labor Aristocracy
JAYATI GHOSH ╱ Oct. 13, 2017 ╱ 4,999 words

Big Banks & Finance

About that Stock Panic
DOUG HENWOOD ╱ Feb. 10, 2018 ╱ 2,248 words

The CFA Franc: French Monetary Imperialism in Africa
NDONGO SAMBA SYLLA ╱ Feb. 10, 2018 ╱ 1,489 words
more big banks (click)

Monetary Imperialism
MICHAEL HUDSON ╱ Feb. 2, 2018 ╱ 3,391 words

The Shifting Battleground
ASAD ZAMAN ╱ Dec. 22, 2017 ╱ 1,035 words

Puerto Rico: When It Rains, It Pours
MICHAEL ROBERTS ╱ Oct. 20, 2017 ╱ 2,265 words

1917-1989 (The Red Century)

Markets in the Name of Socialism. An Interview with Johanna Bockman
JOHANNA BOCKMANJan. 5, 20183,634 words
more 1917-1989 (click)

The Red and the Black
SETH ACKERMANNov. 17, 20178,365 words

How the USSR Radically Reduced Inequality, Even Among its Adversaries
DAVID F. RUCCIOOct. 27, 20171,848 words


Understanding Macroeconomics — The Great Depression
ASAD ZAMAN ╱ March. 18, 2018 ╱ 1,072 words

Freedom for Whom? Debate with a Libertarian
ANDREW J. KLIMAN ╱ March. 2, 2018 ╱ 2,032 words
more ideals (click)

Maximising Economic Democracy and Justice in a Real-World Economy
ANDERS SANDSTRÖM & JASON CHRYSOSTOMOU ╱ Feb. 24, 2018 ╱ 1,935 words

Models of Public Ownership
MICHAEL ROBERTS ╱ Feb. 24, 2018 ╱ 1,069 words

Utopia - without classes
DAVID F. RUCCIO ╱ Feb. 17, 2018 ╱ 803 words

Utopia and the Right to be Lazy
DAVID F. RUCCIO ╱ Feb. 10, 2018 ╱ 1,001 words

The Red and the Black
SETH ACKERMAN ╱ Nov. 17, 2017 ╱ 8,365 words

What Should We Demand from Our Economy?
ROBIN ERIC HAHNELOct. 7, 201713,789 words


Capitalism’s life source: the domestic and social basis for exploitation
TITHI BHATTACHARYAJan. 26, 20183,451 words

more marxists (click)

On the Relevance of Marx’s Capital for Today
ANDREW J. KLIMANDec. 15, 20173,226 words

Karl Marx II: An Analysis of my Father’s Chief Work
ELEANOR MARXDec. 15, 20172,274 words

Karl Marx I: The briefest sketch of my father’s life
ELEANOR MARXDec. 8, 20172,747 words

Other visitors

SE's content, when republished from other sources or when containing original content, may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the original source.

SE has relied on content from:
Pluto Press / Dollars & Sense / The Next Recession / Anticap / Rethinking Marxism / The New Press / Público / Revolting Europe / CUP / Alternet / Jacobin / IWallerstein / Marxists Internet Archive / With Sober Senses / WEA Pedagogy Blog / Rebel News / Counterpunch / Review of African Political Economy / Left Business Observer / Center for Economic and Policy Research /

Contact us: join@socialisteconomist.com