This is an interesting discussion about the Neo-Liberal myth of the Self-Made Man. The myth is not unlike the myth of the Adam Smithian Barter Savage myth that Polanyi critiques in his criticism of Neo-Liberal ideology. The common thematic thread the two myths share is that these myths are designed to provide ideological justification and therefore acceptance of wealth inequality and commodifization of money in a self-regulating economy.
Ren mentioned an important aspect of ideological justification of this particular kind of Smithian market capitalism:
Science plays an important role in laying the foundations of Neo-liberalism ideology so as to be accepted as true by society, and to resist criticism when markets fails. Polanyi examines another important myth which combines the concepts of self-regulation, and competition that are the submerged assumptions of the Self-Made independent individual myth. Polanyi recounts Joseph Townsend’s belief that political economy should be based on human science: specifically, the theorem of the goats and dogs.
Townsend constructs a paradigm, or ideological model of the behavior of animals to provide a “scientific” explanation of how human beings behave in a self-regulated market.
Not only does the myth of the goats and dogs provide a perceived “scientific” justification of minimizing the role of government in protecting society against the vicissitudes of market imbalances like unemployment, hunger, and poverty, but the mythos “naturalizes” these inhuman conditions by argument of analogy, “The laws of commerce were the laws of nature and consequently the laws of God.” (Ibid., 122). Neo-Liberalism posits that society is to be organized according to this myth of zoological determinism!
Malthusian population law and the law of diminishing returns provide ideological justification for allowing a large part of society to starve without intervention because it is the “natural” state of things—the law of Nature that is built on a myth. Such is the power of ideological propaganda. What Malthusianism failed to take into account is that an increase in population not only is followed by an increase in the demand for food, but a parallel increase in productive labor power. Also, the accumulation of cultural knowledge in the arithmetical production of food can overcome the geometricalgrowth of population. Hunger in the market system often is the result of overproduction of food- market surplus- rather than market scarcity.
This perceived scientific and naturalistic myth is actually an irrational reified philosophy that distort experience. Society (Community) and the Subject (Individual) are distorted according to narrow political interests by subtracting the community’s complexity and history through ideological abstraction. I wrote earlier about this radical abstraction and how ideological systems can invert the relationship between market concepts and experience, “The upside-down relationship between society and this doctrine of self-regulating markets-placing markets above society- is a strong analogy in my mind with the debate during the early 1900’s of the epistemological status of mathematical logic in philosophy. Yes, there is a strong parallel with the Logical Absolutism of Husserl and Bertand Russell that understood mathematics and logic as referring to ‘some-thing.’” In Adorno’s “Negative Dialectics” he makes this same connection between the abstractions of logic and the abstractions of “vulgar” economic theory:
Adorno uses the language of Subject-Object epistemology to explain reification: the subject is the knower, and the object is the known. The subject is consciousness, and the object is external to the subject, but grasped by a concept. The concepts of the market, the individual, or freedom are a complex of multiple concepts unique to its cultural history. Cultural concepts are composed of a
Adorno take the idea(s) of freedom to show what he means by social totality of the concept of freedom:
Yet, freedom in the reified theory of the self-regulated market is reduced to a “market view of society which equated economics with contractual relationships, and contractual relations with freedom.”(Polanyi, p. 266).
Reified concepts result in a reified intellectual life in which experience is distorted and impairs our ability to articulate the complexity of our own lives and world. Reification is radical objectivism that reduces the irreducible object to a limited false concept. Reification is a false consciousness that embraces a “Naive Realism” that gives epistemological validation to reified assumptions in which “the object is independent of subjectivity and is apprehended as it is in-itself. It presents the order of knowing as a fully given object being passively received by a subject.” (Adorno, p. 50.) Radical empiricism, or positivism, is distinguished as an epistemology of the passive subject, or passive knower that merely collects data. The reified consciousness cannot conceive of objects that are not reducible to pre-fabricated concepts.
More on the topic of reification see: