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Postmodern Economics

Postmodern Economics – Introduction
The following quotations by Rorty and Ruccio and Amariglio illustrate one of the hurdles to understanding Postmodern economics—a lack of consensus among Postmodernists:

    “It is possible to choose (and to persuade others of the advantages of) socialism over capitalism.”
    (David F. Ruccio and Jack Amariglio)1

    “Just about the only constructive suggestion Marx made, the abolition of private property, has been tried. It did not work."
    (Richard Rorty)2
Another hurdle is that Postmodernists tend not to use traditional language associated with economics—wages, pensions, interest rates, inflation, Social Security, retirement, etc. Instead, they use obscure words and phrases such as fragmentation, differentiation, chronology, pastiche, anti-foundationalism, and pluralism. More terminology that obscures meaning includes “the undecidability of meaning, the textuality of discursivity of knowledge, the inconceivability of pure ‘presence,’ the irrelevance of intention, the insuperability of authenticity, the impossibility of representation, the celebration of play, difference, plurality, chance, inconsequence, and marginality.”3 Confusion even surrounds the meaning of the word person in Postmodern economic terms. Postmodern economists Ruccio and Amariglio, authors of Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics, explain, “The Postmodern condition opens up a very different research agenda for economic scientists should they choose to disown (what many regard as a necessary fiction) the unified self and move, instead to a fiction supposedly more in tune with contemporary reality, the decentered self.”4

Ruccio and Amariglio expose the heart of Postmodern economics—and to understand them, we must define unified self and decentered self and why they are said to be fictions.

Postmodern Economics – The Basic Economic Unit: “The Decentered Self”
Economics flows from our understanding of the human person. Postmodern psychology sees human beings as fictions—meaning there is no unified, rational self and no permanent understanding of who we are. Rather, what we call human beings Postmodernists call social constructions.

Ruccio and Amariglio say there is “no singular and unique ‘I.’”5 In other words, there is no self-identity and no permanent soul or mind. Postmodernists refer to human beings not as persons, but as subjects, bodies, or units. Person suggests the existence of a singular and unique I who possesses a personality or human nature.To Postmodernists, there is no human nature. There is only an ever evolving, highly sexual, social animal with multiple subjective interests crying out for recognition and acceptance. Ruccio and Amariglio admit they have “no interest in determining or representing what the body [subject] ‘really’ looks like.”6

Our common understanding of self corresponds to our perception of gender and sex. However, in the Postmodern view, these two terms are not synonymous. Being born with a male or female anatomy thus does not make us male or female because these concepts are socially constructed fictions. Ruccio and Amaraglio say, “Regardless of biological sex,” human beings can be “gendered in different ways.”7 Thus, according to the Postmodernist way of seeing things, there are no longer only two sexes—male and female–but a multiplicity of genders, including, but not limited to, heterosexual, homosexual, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, etc. All sexualities are socially and economically constructed and must be considered in any emerging economic theory and practice.8

One of the major goals of Postmodern economics is to eliminate the distinction between men and women, a distinction that has been “inculcated by an oppressive patriarchal society.”9 The goal is to eliminate patriarchal society itself and elevate the economic realities of gendered subjects (women, homosexuals, bisexuals, etc.). The goal includes creating more equitable work environments for all subjects in fields that are viewed to be presently monopolized by heterosexual males—the military and the clergy, for example.

Postmodern economics is built on several interlocking concepts. First, every subject’s perception of self is shaped by the surrounding culture. Second, these perceptions are fictions in the sense that they are stories we have been told by our society. Third, these stories do not correspond to anything objective or eternal, and they vary from culture to culture and over time.

Postmodern Economics – Socialism vs. Capitalism
Building on the conviction that human units are interchangeable, Postmodernists critique our understanding of gender in Western culture as oppressive and outmoded. Historically, Western economic systems were based on a male-dominated society. Men are said to have had an upper hand because they constructed society and its corresponding economic structure to their advantage. Therefore, in order to create a society with equal opportunities for all subjects, this male-dominated system must be dismantled. Since men will not willingly relinquish their economic power to women and the poor, the government must intervene to see that economic justice is available to all. Socialism, or a state-planned economy, is such an intervention.

Postmodernists thus denounce male-dominated capitalism because it produces “one-sided” individuals who lack the ability to perceive the whole. Socialism, by contrast, “allows potentially all of its members to see the whole.”10 In other words, capitalism speaks primarily to heterosexual maleness, while socialism speaks to the “total” decentered subjects of numerous genders with its “many different subjectivities simultaneously none of which is given privilege as representing the subject’s real essence, whether natural or historical...and without a goal or end to which they are moving.”11

Some Postmodernists prefer to replace the term socialism with everyday economics.12 An older term is collectivism. Whatever name is used, there is a consistent denunciation of capitalism, while Postmodernists criticize in several ways: 1) “profits seem to have a higher priority than people; 2) stress on workers is grueling; and 3) U.S. citizens are being fleeced by banks and pharmaceutical companies and utilities and energy companies and HMOs and big, international companies in general [numbers added].”13

Stephen Hicks provides perspective to the Postmodern view of economics: “Postmodern thinkers inherit an intellectual tradition that has seen the defeat of all of its major hopes, but there was always socialism. As bad as the philosophical universe became in metaphysics, epistemology, and the study of human nature, there was still the vision of an ethical and political order that would transcend everything and create the beautiful collectivist society.”14

Postmodern Economics – Conclusion
Postmodern economics is a mixed bag of conflicting ideas and theories. While most Postmodernists favor socialism, others opt for some milder form of interventionism. Still others harshly critique both socialism and capitalism, and some are critical of all economic theories.

In the final analysis, while Postmodernists are not in total agreement in every detail, they are committed to the leftist side of the economic spectrum, favoring, to varying degrees, some form of government intervention. This intervention may be more overt, as with Ruccio and Amariglio, or less so, as with Rorty. But in either case, there is agreement that capitalism is the enemy of social justice. Yet based on the Postmodern aversion to metanarratives, most hesitate to offer concrete solutions, preferring instead to experiment with some degree of socialism for an economic alternative that best suites an ever-changing social structure.

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Rendered with permission from the book,Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews(Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 David F. Ruccio and Jack Amariglio, Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 299.
2 Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1999), 214.
3 Ruccio and Amariglio, Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics, 17–8.
4 Ibid., 14.
5 Ibid., 167.
6 Ibid., 134.
7 Ibid., 169.
8 Ibid., 129.
9 The Washington Times, April 21, 2005, A2.
10 Ruccio and Amariglio, Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics,250.
11 Ibid., 249.
12 Ibid., 270.
13 Ibid., 269.
14 Stephen R.C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Tempe, AZ: Scholargy Publishing, 2004), 197.

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