Unbridgeable: Why Political Economists Cannot Accept Capital as Power

The theory of capital as power (CasP) is radically different from conventional political economy.

In the conventional view, mainstream as well as heterodox, capital is seen a ‘real’ economic entity engaged in the production of goods and services, and capitalism is thought of as a mode of production and consumption. Finance in this approach is either a mere reflection/lubricant of the real economy (the mainstream view), or a parasitic fiction (the heterodox perspective).

CasP rejects this framework. Capital, it argues, is not a productive economic entity, but a symbolic representation of organized societal power writ large, and capitalism should be analysed not as a mode of production and consumption, but as a mode of power. In this approach, finance is neither a reflection nor a fiction, but the symbolic language that organizes and creorders – or creates the order of – capitalized power.

These are foundational claims. They go to the very heart of political economy, and they have far-reaching implications. So far-reaching, in fact, that if we accept them, we must rewrite, often from scratch, much of the theory, history and possible futures of the capitalist order.

Many have complained about CasP being aloof. Our approach, they have argued, insists on being ‘right’ – to the exclusion of all others. It shows no interest in ‘building bridges’. It dismisses neoclassical liberalism altogether, and although sometimes sympathetic to Marx, it aims not to revise Marxism, but to discard it altogether.

In this research note – excerpted and revised from our 2020 invited-then-rejected interview with Revue de la regulation – we explain the basis for these complaints and why CasP and conventional political economy cannot be easily bridged. Stated briefly, the problem is not unwillingness but built-in barriers. As it stands, political economy cannot accept capital as power. Its very foundations prevent it from doing so.

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