Pomo Periscope XXIII: Becker on Foucault on Becker
| Nicolai Foss |
Given the importance they usually ascribe to the sinister forces of “neo-liberalism,” it is — perhaps– surprising that prominent pomo writers seldom engage with the major economists with more or less strong classical liberal/libertarian leanings, such as Nobel Prize Winners Gary Becker, James Buchanan, Ronald Coase, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek. However, most of these write very clearly; for example, it is hard to imagine a stronger contrast to the murky prose of pomo than Nobelist Gary Becker’s refreshingly direct and clear writing.
And yet, pomo demi-god and arguably the clearest writer among the pomo social critics and philosophers, Michel Foucault critically dealt with Gary Becker in his 1979 “Birth of Biopolitics” lectures. In a recent UChicago WP, “Becker on Ewald on Foucault on Becker’: American Neoliberalism and Michel Foucault’s 1979 ‘Birth of Biopolitics’ Lectures,” Foucault’s assistant at the time of these lectures, Francois Ewald, debate Foucault’s Becker-reading with Bernard Harcourt, and–the scoop of this transcribed dialogue–Becker himself.
The whole debate is (unlike the Pomo Periscope) highly civilized; in fact, Becker notes that “I was very happy to read these two lectures, which impressed me in a number of directions. They are very clear, I thought. He had a good understanding of what human capital consisted of.” However, in spite of his politeness Becker offers a direct refutation of the Foucauldian critique that economics in general, and human capital theory in particular, dehumanize people and portray them stimulus-response puppets:
Instead of saying that the vision of man is poor, I would say the vision of man is rich in this approach, because you enrich both what people do as consumers—that’s why I think Foucault says this was an interesting theory of consumption—and you enrich what they do in terms of a lot of their other life decisions that would go beyond consumption, in terms of their education, how they might invest to respond to different government laws, how they might evade bad laws.
A fun read!! HT to Henrik Lando.
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