The Bloody Law of the Invisible Hand

Fred Williams, Upwey Landscape, 1964–5
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By JOSÉ MICAELSON LACERDA MORAIS*

For capital and against humanity since 1776

In principle, the content of this article could only deal with the unwanted repercussions of the principle of the “invisible hand” on society, or even gather elements to contest Smith's proposition that economic liberalism, related to such a principle, would lead us to the best of all worlds. However, the reason (philosophical and economic) in Smith is much more complex and, the doctrine of self-interest, basis from which he derives his proposition of the invisible hand, reached, under the capitalist mode of production, the rank of general and universal norm. of behavior and conduct of social subjects, freeing capital from any ethical and moral limits.

As Rothschild (2003, p. 135) explains, “[…] Smith himself does not seem to have given much importance to the invisible hand […]”. Prior to the twentieth century, even Smith's commentators do not seem to have paid attention to the principle. According to Rothschild, the same was not highlighted in the memoirs about the life and work of the author, by Dugald Stewart, nor in the editions of “Wealth of Nations” by Playfair or McCulloch, or even, in the commemorations of the centenary of his constructions; “[…] It is even noteworthy that the expression 'invisible hand' was barely known at the beginning of the 2003th century […]” (ROTHSCHILD, 135, p. XNUMX). It was only in the course of that century that the principle of the invisible hand acquired the status of “[…] 'the most important contribution [of] economic thought' to the understanding of social processes […]”, according to Arrow and Frank Hahn, as the aforementioned author also observes.

In order to understand the inexorable and real meaning that such a formulation reached in the XNUMXth century, we need to go back to his previous work, the Theory of Moral Sentiments (TSM), which contains his thesis of a harmonious society that would be built under the aegis of sympathy and of the impartial spectator; two core concepts of TSM. As we will try to establish below, self-interest, in its most sophisticated and ideological formalization, the invisible hand, of the Wealth of Nations (RN), does seem like an economic version of TSM's ideas of sympathy and the impartial spectator. The difference is that in the latter, the social issue (social order and harmony) is presented as a moral principle while in the RN it is understood as an economic issue. The self-regulating principle of society loses its moral content and takes on an economic dimension, albeit a ghostly one, invisible, but with overwhelming power in the context of the generalization of mercantile exchanges. Thus, the principle of the invisible hand becomes directly responsible for promoting efficiency, social benefit, in short, social order and harmony. Thus, one must not forget that the two works are of different dimensions and temporalities: the TSM represents a philosophical treatment of human behavior, while the RN deals with the economic foundations of a new society in the process of consolidation.

The establishment of interest as a social norm was, as Hirschman (2002, p. 63) clarifies, “[…] both the product of a long sequence of Western thought and an important component of the intellectual climate of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries […] ”. The core of the discussion involving the thesis “interests versus passions”, can be identified in authors such as Pascal, Giambattista Vico, Mandeville, Bacon, Spinoza, Hume, among many others, analyzed in detail in the work “As passions and interests: political arguments in favor of capitalism before its triumph”, by the same author of the previous quotation. But what is important to highlight here is that the formulation given by Smith to interest, synthesized in the principle of the invisible hand, practically superseded all previous discussion on the subject.

TSM, without a doubt, is a fascinating work in all aspects: depth, genius, originality, etc. It aims to discuss man's inner struggle between his virtues and his vices and demonstrate, in the end, that self-control over the latter, and social approval of the former, is the natural path to a better society. Its starting point is the existence of a moral sense innate to man, derived from a sense of sympathy and the figure of the impartial spectator, characteristics that are also innate, according to Smith's inductions. The social question appears as a moral principle, not as an economic question. So, in that context, for him, what would be the morally correct way to act if we are always torn between our vices and our virtues?

“In dealing with moral principles it is necessary to consider two questions. First, in what does virtue consist—or the tone of temper, and tenor of conduct, which constitutes excellent and praiseworthy character, a character which is a natural object of esteem, honor, and approbation? And, secondly, by what power or faculty of the mind does this character, whatever it may be, recommend itself to us? Or, in other words, how, and by what means, does the mind happen to prefer one type of conduct to another; to call one right and the other wrong; to consider one object of approval, honor, and reward, and the other of shame, censure, and punishment?” (SMITH, 2015, l, 7262).

The answer developed by him goes through the understanding that there is a moral sense proper to human nature, beyond self-love. Moral sense, which enables both the civil condition (production of artificial conventions for community life, such as justice, for example), and the search for “excellent and commendable character, a character that is a natural object of esteem, honor and approval” , by all social subjects. Morality as a human condition, through its various forms of representation - such as the establishment of a social order, instead of a natural order, in which conflict resolution occurs based on dialogue and justice, rather than violence, promotion of virtues to achieve happiness, etc ‒ thus represents a process. The fundamental elements of this process were understood by Smith as being constituted by the ideas of sympathy and the impartial spectator, as previously mentioned. Sympathy, understood as a “correspondence of feelings”, would thus be a natural human condition whose purpose is to mediate between our self-love (egoism) and our disinterested love (altruism); making possible the existence of a sense of solidarity, a necessary condition for life in society.

“And hence it follows, that feeling much for others and little for ourselves, restraining our selfish affections and cultivating benevolent ones, constitutes the perfection of human nature; and thus alone can that harmony of sentiments and passions be produced among men in which all their grace and propriety consists. And just as loving our neighbor as we love ourselves constitutes the great law of Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature that we love ourselves only as we love our neighbor, or, which is the same thing, as our neighbor. is capable of loving us” (SMITH, 2015, l, 1917-1918).

Although, for Smith, the moral sense is innate to man, the virtues seem to be the result of a high degree of mastery over “the most unruly passions of human nature”, a realm not accessible to everyone. From this perspective, society appears to the author to be made up of three classes of men: (1) ordinary people (common degree of morality, without vices or virtues); (2) people dominated by passions (addictions); and (3) people with a high degree of sensitivity, delicacy and tenderness (virtuous). For Smith, “in the common degree of morals there are no virtues”.

“The amiable virtue of humanity certainly requires a sensitivity far superior to that possessed by rude and vulgar people. The great and eminent virtue of magnanimity undoubtedly requires far more than the gradations of self-control of which the weakest mortal is capable. Just as in the common grade of intellectual qualities there are no talents, in the common grade of morals there are no virtues. Virtue is excellence, something exceptionally great and beautiful, which rises far above what is vulgar and ordinary. Amiable virtues consist of the degree of sensitivity that surprises with its refined and unexpected delicacy and tenderness. The venerable and respectable, in the degree of self-control that surprises by the astonishing superiority in relation to the most ungovernable passions of human nature” (SMITH, 2015, l. 1923-1924).

It is interesting to note that sympathy is not the same as benevolence, compassion or pity, although they are not dissociated. Benevolence, compassion, and pity constitute the unselfish part of sympathy. This is related to a feeling of solidarity, in the sense of correspondence, agreement or reciprocity (perfect harmony) of feelings, of the fate of a man for the fate of other men, as also stated earlier. Thus: “Every faculty of one man is the measure by which he judges the same faculty in another. I judge your sight by my sight, your ear by my ear, your reason by my reason, your resentment by my resentment, your love by my love. I have and cannot have any other way of judging them” (SMITH, 2015, l, 1788).

In Chapter II, "Of the Origin of Ambition and Social Distinction", Smith, deals with the domestication of avarice and ambition by sympathy. According to him: "It is because men are disposed to sympathize more fully with our joy than with our pain, that we display our wealth and hide our poverty" (SMITH, TSM, l, 2505). For him, pursuing wealth and avoiding poverty is a consideration proper to the feelings of humanity, as the former is associated with “joyful congratulations and solidary attentions, while the latter with disdain and aversion”. The feeling of approval derived from sympathy has two aspects: 1) the sympathetic passion of the spectator (always pleasant in appearance); and 2) another feeling that can be both pleasant and unpleasant, according to the type of original passion.

In TSM, Smith also observes that man can subsist only in society and that solidarity, as its foundation, can occur in two ways. First, for feelings of love, gratitude, friendship, and esteem. Second, out of a sense of usefulness. Regarding the first form, Smith thus says: “[…] where necessary help is reciprocally provided by love, gratitude, friendship and esteem, society flourishes and is happy. All its different members are tied together by the pleasant links of love and affection, as if drawn to a common center of reciprocal good services” (SMITH, 2015, l, 3327).

Sympathy appears as an intrinsic need for personal excellence, but such excellence can only exist in the comparison of the existence of one being with another. In this sense, sympathy is related to “[…] emulation, the afflicted desire to be excellent, [which] is originally based on our admiration for the excellence of others […].” (SMITH, 2015, l, 3925). Excellence is both the cause and cause of admiration of a being by others. Thus, “[…] we are not satisfied with being admired solely for what others are; at least we must believe that we are admirable for what they are.” (SMITH, TSM, 3925, 2015). In turn, the satisfaction provided by matching feelings depends on our ability to become 'impartial spectators of our own character and conduct'. The figure of the impartial spectator plays a central role in TSM and is also seen as the centripetal force that keeps society going. Without the impartial spectator there could not exist a minimum of social order, since feelings could not be reflected, corresponded, among men. However, as Smith explains, becoming an impartial spectator takes effort: “[…] It takes effort to see them [character and conduct] with other people's eyes, or as other people are likely to see them. Seen in that light, if they appear to us as we wish, we are happy and content. But this happiness and contentment is greatly confirmed, when we find that others, viewing our character and conduct with those eyes with which we, only in imagination, endeavored to see them, see us in precisely the same light in that we saw them. His approbation necessarily confirms the approbation of ourselves. His praise necessarily strengthens our sense that we are worthy of praise. In that case, the love of what is praiseworthy is so far from deriving entirely from the love of praise, that the latter seems, in a large measure, at least, to derive from the former, that is, from the love of what is praiseworthy. , 3930-3931).

The second form of solidarity comes from a sense of usefulness. There is not exactly a development of this idea in TSM, just a passage, but that already opens space for the doctrine of self-interest and the resulting idea of ​​the invisible hand developed in RN, seventeen years later. It is interesting to note this time gap, as it refers to a period of intense development of merchant capital in England.

“But even if the necessary help is not provided from such generous and disinterested motives, even if between the different members of society there is not mutual love and affection, society, though less happy and pleasant, will not necessarily dissolve, for it can subsist between different men, as between different merchants, from a sense of their usefulness, without any reciprocal love or affection. And although no man who lives in society owes obedience or is bound to another by gratitude, yet it is possible to maintain it by a mercenary exchange of good services, according to a valuation agreed between them” (SMITH, 2015, l, 3332-3333 ).

Therefore, in TSM, the market (“the mercenary exchange of good services”) still appears very timidly as a principle of social organization. The figure of the impartial spectator, in addition to providing a rule of conduct, of good conduct, also allows, as Smith explains in chapter III, “the influence and authority of conscience”, the “appropriate comparison between our interests and those of other people". In other words, the possibility of transforming the impartial spectator into self-interest is open and, therefore, into its most general determination, the invisible hand, as a general and universal mediator of social relations. So we have two dimensions of the impartial spectator; one that refers to human conduct and; another that harmonizes personal interests. However, in TSM, there is still no relationship between self-interest and economic benefit in Smith's thinking. For, according to him, “the false representations of self-love” will be corrected not by the market, but by love, a love greater than the “love of our neighbor” or of humanity, “[...] the love of what is honorable and noble, to the greatness, dignity and superiority of our own characters” (SMITH, 2015, l, 4339).

Broadly speaking, sympathy can be seen as a result of Smith's worldview. He believed in a natural harmony in society, as nature had created man for society and endowed him “[…] with an original desire to please, and a primary aversion to offending his brothers. He taught him to take pleasure in their favorable opinion, and to suffer in their unfavorable opinion. It made the approval of his fellows in itself very flattering and agreeable to him, and their disapproval very mortifying and offensive” (SMTH, 2015, l, 3972).

Therefore, according to Smith, it is from the “desire for approval” and “aversion to disapproval” that life in society takes place and moves towards the “true love of virtue” and the “real horror of vice”. For Smith, the general rules of morality are regarded as laws of divinity. Hence, the idea of ​​social harmony, the “interest of the great human society”, appears in various words and ideas to endorse sympathy and the impartial spectator, as innate qualities of man: conduct, praise, great diligence, praiseworthy actions, “avoiding the shadow of censure or reproach", "most praiseworthy prudence", self-restraint, inward judgment, honour, dignity, approbation, "ideal man within the bosom", "true happiness", virtuosity, benevolence, "righteousness of our own judgments", moral sense, “natural sense of merit and propriety”, generosity, kind action, respectable action, sense of duty, “respect the general rules of conduct”, gratitude, respect, prudence, esteem, goodwill, self-control, self-esteem, “ […] the most wise Author of nature taught man to respect the feelings and judgments of his brothers […]” (SMITH, 2015, l, 4201).

Despite Smith's good intentions to improve society, through the use of reason as a force to tame passions and vices, he ends up creating just a manual of etiquette for the new bourgeois class (without any denigration of the philosophical value of his work). . Thus, TSM becomes an impossible work of humanization despite all the humanity contained in it. Because it does not consider the core of the social issue, the struggle for existence based on the social relations of production. Not that virtues and common sense are not important in the process of human socialization, but that in the face of the struggle for existence and class struggles, they become, at the very least, instruments of alienation.

To illustrate our analysis, we resorted to the art of literature and its interpretative force of the dramatic reality. Specifically, to the book by the Frenchman Pierre Lemaitre, entitled slippage, translated by “Inhuman Resources”, which also became a series of streaming. In the plot, based on dramatic events, and a series of ethical and moral conflicts, involving the protagonist (a middle-aged unemployed man) and a large corporation, there is the question of unemployment, the precariousness of work, the difficulty of formal hiring of workers over fifty, the power and morals of big business in neoliberal capitalism. The last dialogue, shown below, as it is shorter, was taken from the series. It takes place between the protagonist, Alain Delambre and Alexandre Dorfmann, the CEO of Exxyal Europe. The starting point of the plot is a situation in which the company intended to use Delambre to carry out a kidnapping simulation (with bombs, firearms, simulating the CEO's death, …) of the company's top leadership, under the pretext that this would he would get a job. The experiment aimed to test the loyalty of its executives and, mainly, to select one of them for a difficult mission: to conduct a layoff plan for 1.200 workers, in one of its branches, located in the countryside of France. During the kidnapping, Delambre reverses the game and takes the opportunity to transfer a significant amount of the company's illegal money to tax havens.

Dorfmann – “Do you know why Mr. and I are more alike than you think? He finds the neoliberal system inhuman and based on greed, which creates poverty to enrich the rich. Always the same speech. But when the money is presented to him, Mr. is the first to run after him. When money is involved, Mr. he is ready to leave his wife in the hands of assassins. Do you know why we are more alike than you think? Simply because we are human, more like wolves than sheep. We protect our territory, our family, the food we have or covet. We are ready for anything, we are capable of anything. Look, even the 20 million euros that Mr. considers his because he stole them from us. But, their behavior can be seen as inhumane, greedy and immoral.”

Delambre – “Morality Mr. Dorfmann is luxury for the privileged. In fact, his system lied to me, manipulated me, used me, was ready to get rid of me without a second thought. The money is not mine because I stole it, it's mine because I earned it.”

The dialogue above is of revealing symbolism, despite being a work of fiction (examples from the real world of the unfolding of the principle of invisible hand will be illustrated later in the article). It portrays a conflict that goes far beyond ethics, morals, virtues and vices. It portrays, in a word, not the pursuit of virtue and happiness, but a fierce, unequal struggle of unspeakable cruelty to human reason: capital in its tireless and insatiable quest for domination, exploitation and accumulation; work, in the sense of pure survival, in a “brave new world”, of increasingly precarious forms of work, new forms of expropriation and expulsions. If, on the one hand, sympathy and the impartial spectator, existing in man, were not enough for a different humanization process; on the other hand, self-interest and the invisible hand, led human society to a degree of dystopia only compared to the post-apocalyptic world of works of the genre.

In RN, self-interest appears as a force that dominates the passions and tames them for the realization of man as a being, so that the economic process and progress appear as the foundations of this reason. This is because interest inserts an “element of constancy and predictability in human behavior”, in contrast to “the fluctuating and unpredictable character” of passions, as Hirschman (2002) clarifies. Reason assumes, therefore, the role of transforming the selfishness and avarice in the foundations of a new society, since they are directly related to the new pattern of wealth, derived from the development of commerce and manufacture. Thus, commerce (and the bourgeoisie) ceases to be an activity that was frowned upon, until then, and becomes the cause of progress; including good public administration, that is, an element for the improvement of the country, as highlighted by Smith himself in the RN: “[...] commerce and manufactures gradually introduced order and good administration and, with them, freedom and the safety of individuals, among the country-dwellers, who had hitherto lived more or less in a continual state of war with their neighbors, and of slavish dependence on their superiors. Although this factor is the last mentioned here, it is undoubtedly the most important of all[…]” (SMITH, 1996, p. 400).

In the case of the idea of ​​the invisible hand, when Smith used the term in the RN, he did so in a very specific context, when he dealt with international trade in Chapter II, “Restriction on the importation of foreign goods that can be produced in the country ”, from the fourth book, “System of political economy”. Little did he know that at that moment he had formulated a principle that would later be transformed into a “true law”, imposed and defended at all costs in the movement for the expanded reproduction of capital. A powerful heuristic key that encompasses all of his great work and on which the ideological underpinning of capitalism also rests. The principle of the invisible hand was thus, in a somewhat unpretentious way, exposed by him:

“Wherefore, as each individual endeavors, as far as possible, to employ his capital in fostering national activity, and in such a way to direct that activity that his produce will have the greatest possible value, each individual necessarily endeavors to increase as much as possible the income company annual. Generally, in reality, he does not intend to promote the public interest nor does he know how far he is promoting it. By preferring to encourage the activity of the country and not of other countries, he only has his own security in view; and directing his activity in such a way that his produce may be of the greatest value, he aims only at his own gain, and in this, as in many other cases, is led as by an invisible hand to further an object which was no part of his intentions. . Incidentally, it is not always worse for society if this objective is not part of the individual's intentions. In pursuing his own interests, the individual often promotes the interest of society much more effectively than when he actually intends to promote it. I have never heard that great things have been done for the country by those who pretend to trade for the public good. Indeed, it is not a very common artifice among merchants, and not many words are needed to dissuade them from it” (SMITH, 1996, p. 438).

However, the nature and implications of Smith's great work, for economic theory and for society, may have been revealed in a very forceful way by a brief article written back in the 1870s. The Political Economy of Adam Smith, by TE Cliffe Leslie, published in Fortnightly Review. According to Leslie, the great problem of Smith's social philosophy and, consequently, of his economic theory lies in its foundation in the doctrine of Natural Law. In this sense, Political Economy for Smith would be a “proven set of laws of Nature”. However, Political Economy is a Historical Science, it is not, as Leslie rightly states: “[…] a body of natural laws […] or of universal and immutable truths, but a set of speculations and doctrines that are the result of a private history, colored by the history and character of its principal writers; which, far from being universal and unchangeable from age to age, has varied greatly in different ages and countries, and even with different expositors in the same age and country” […] (LESLIE, 1870, np).

Leslie (1870), emphasizes that the interpretation of NR cannot be carried out adequately if one does not consider the “complete system of social philosophy” of its author, which includes Natural Theology, Philosophy of Law, Ethics and Political Economy, as of in a way we try to undertake in this article. In general, Smith's economic theory “[…] suggests a complete 'natural' organization of the economic world, and aims at the discovery of 'natural prices', 'natural wages' and 'natural profits'” (LESLIE, 1870, np).

“At the end of Book IV. of the 'Wealth of Nations' we find the Code of Nature and its institutions definitely marked: 'All systems of preference or restriction being completely done away with, the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself. Under the system of natural liberty, the State has only three duties to attend': namely, to protect the nation from foreign aggressions, to administer justice, and to keep certain great institutions out of the reach of individual enterprises and an alleged natural limitation of right. and government which has been the cause of infinite errors both in theoretical political economy and in practical legislation” (LESLIE, 1870, np).

The result of Smith's social philosophy is a "beneficial and equitable economy" and one that promotes the "greatest possible amount of happiness" among individuals. Human nature becomes a “religious belief”, in the sense that behaviors, “[…] in accordance with the nature of their Divine Author, necessarily tend towards the most beneficial uses of man's faculties and resources”. Thus, the moral world would be the social representation of the physical world with its presumed characteristics of the classical conception of Nature: “simplicity, harmony, order and equality” (LESLIE, 1870, np).

There is no doubt that Smith's contribution to the understanding and explanation of economic processes was fundamental. The concepts, definitions, the establishment of relationships, such as, for example, between the division of labor and the extension of markets, the formulation of a theory of value (labor value), the formation of market prices, etc., make your seminal work. On a broader level Leslie (1870, np), reveals to us that: “[…] He subjected the phenomena of history and the existing state of the world to a thorough investigation, traced the real economic progress of different countries, the influences of laws of succession and the political distribution of property, the action and reaction of the legal and industrial sector to changes, and the actual movements of wages and profits, so far as they could be verified. Nor was he satisfied with inductions from written evidence, though this was necessarily the most important field of inductive inquiry in social philosophy – he compared all the phenomena which careful personal observation, both in his own country and in France, had brought under his scrutiny. . In short, he added to the experience of mankind a great personal experience for inductive investigation.”

However, his conclusions and recommendations based on respect for the “beneficial constitution of Nature”, both justified an unfair distribution of social wealth and promoted the existence of a State for which “[...] by a natural law the interests of individuals were in harmony with public interests [...]” (LESLIE, 1870, np). In this regard, as noted by the aforementioned author “[…] the damage done to political economy […] was incalculable. For him, because “[…] the real interests that determine production and, subsequently, in the course of consumption, to a large extent, the distribution of wealth are the interests of consumers […]”. For us, because he formulated the idea of ​​an economic system that basically served individual interests (having the doctrine of self-interest as its foundation and support), as opposed to collective interests.

In the interpretation of Mr. Buckle, quoted by Leslie (1870, np), “[…] Smith generalizes the laws of wealth, not from the phenomena of wealth, but from the phenomena of selfishness. He makes men naturally selfish; he represents them as pursuing wealth for sordid objects and for the narrowest personal pleasures.” Leslie (1870, np), thus describes Smith's work as a complete "economic system of natural liberty". Smith was faithful to the historical spirit of his time, as he represented a real struggle that took place between the bourgeoisie and the feudal lords around: “[...] the idea of ​​civil and religious freedom, resistance to arbitrary government and unequal laws, confidence in the individual reason and private judgment in opposition to the dictates of external authority […]”. Leslie justifies Smith's way of thinking with the following argument:

“Throughout history, and throughout Europe, he saw nothing but disorder and misery in the human legislation the world had known, wherever it went beyond protecting personal liberty and property; he saw on all sides a mass of poverty attributable to State interference; the only sources of any wealth and prosperity that existed were the natural motives for industry and the natural powers of production of individual men, and he concluded that nothing was necessary but to leave Nature alone, that there was complete harmony between the individual and the public interest, and that the natural conduct of mankind would secure not only the greatest abundance, but an equal distribution of wealth. He thought he found in his phenomena a positive proof of the Law of Nature and the character of his acts” (LESLIE, 1870, np).

There is thus an ambivalence in Smith's thinking. In terms of theory, it was the result of a combination of “inductive investigation” and the “laws of Nature and of God”. The latter exercised so much force in the author's thought that he made him see, as Leslie (1870, np) noticed, “[...] in all his inductions the proofs of a complete code of nature, of a beneficent order of nature flowing from freedom individual and of the natural desires and dispositions of men […].”

Smith was also ambivalent towards nascent capitalism, as noted by Hirschman (2002). In this case, the ambivalence resulted from his interest in “[…] discovering and emphasizing the involuntary results of human action […].”. For example, in Book I he extols the social division of labor, and in Book IV he discusses “[…] the loss of the martial spirit and virtues as one of the unfortunate consequences both of the division of labor and of commerce in general [… ]” (HIRSCHMAN, 2002, p. 126). For Smith, then, the commercial spirit also had its drawbacks, but nothing that seriously dimmed its brilliance. of your Reads, Hirschman (2002, p. 127), highlights the following quotation: “[…] These are the disadvantages of the commercial spirit. Men's minds are limited, and rendered incapable of elevation. Education is despised, or at least neglected, and the heroic spirit is almost entirely extinguished. The correction of these flaws would be a matter worthy of serious attention.”

Finally, and most seriously, Smith's Enlightenment led him to formulate Political Economy as a “science of exchanges” based on “the natural effort of each individual to improve his own condition”. In this context, individual work assumes the role of distributing social functions “spontaneously in the best way, and distributing[…] its products in a natural order and with greater equality […]” (LESLIE, 1870, np). However, as we can infer “[…] no complete organization for the distribution of wealth is made by individual action, or what Adam Smith called Nature […] human institutions, laws of property and succession, are necessarily the main organs in determination of its distribution” (LESLIE, 1870, np). That is, there is not socially, as Smith thought, an “order according to which its production [productive forces of labor] is naturally distributed among the different categories of the people”, that is, between different classes, as suggested by the summary of book I of the “Wealth of Nations.” But this was already too powerful an idea, apparently confirmed by individual experience and, more importantly, represented the interests of the rising capitalist class. However, Smith's inductive method and philosophical spirit could have led him down a different path of analysis, as Leslie comments (1870, np).

“[…] he should have denied the real equality of wages and profits, traced the great real inequalities to their causes, and defined the conditions of equality and inequality, and the real effect of industrial progress on these movements, so as to indicate the very divergence progress that has taken place since, and which a school of modern economists not only ignores, but sometimes angrily denies, as inconsistent with their deductions from priori. "

Although Smith did not follow a distinct path of analysis, in his ambivalence he contributed several clues so that later thinkers could undertake a scientific critique of capitalism. Perhaps, an irony of history towards Smith himself, as such clues appear as an involuntary result of his theory. In summary, Smith's Enlightenment presents itself as the realization of individual freedom, as a disposition for individual independence. However, for him there is no direct correspondence between “enlightened disposition” and freedom, because the intentions of individuals “reveal to be petty and futile”. Thus, the realization of individual freedom appears as an unintentional realization of individuals promoted by a universal interest (the invisible hand as the hand of God). Enlightenment was thus a privilege for the few. As seen earlier, the invisible hand is based on the doctrine of interest: the idea of ​​self-interest as the key to understanding human action; the transformation of the vice of avarice into the virtue of social welfare. Doctrine that sought to explain a new society, based on a new reason, economic reason, and which had as an elementary rule of conduct for the individual, the limitless pursuit of economic value. Thus, it was with Smith's economic systematization that "in its limited and domesticated form, the idea of ​​harnessing [the mobilization of passions] was able to survive and prosper both as one of the tenets of nineteenth-century liberalism and as a construct foundation of economic theory” (HIRSCHMAN, 2002, p.40). For he was able to establish a “[…] powerful economic justification for the unbridled pursuit of individual self-interest […]” (HIRSCHMAN, 2002, p.120).

As we have already commented on another occasion, the eminent Professor Giannetti, in 1993, published a book in which he tried to frame the Economy in an ethical perspective. His thesis is that of “ethics as a productive factor”, determinant of economic performance, of the nation's wealth, and his central proposition is that: “[...] the presence of moral values ​​and adherence to rules of conduct are requirements indispensable for the market to establish itself as a rule of civilized coexistence and become, fueled by the desire of each individual to live better, a constructive interaction in the creation of wealth” (GIANNETTI, 1993, p. 154).

Unfortunately, there seems to be no support in the world of real capitalism for Professor Giannetti's argument. Simply because when we confront “ethics as a productive factor” with the “fetish of money” (mystification of money), it is the unbridled pursuit of individual self-interest that always seems to prevail. The capitalist dynamic elevates self-interest to a position far beyond the self-regulating principle foreseen for the invisible hand, far above any ethical and moral behavior. For, money “as an existing and active concept of value”, as Marx, still very young, observed: “[...] also presents itself against the individual and against social bonds, etc., which intend to be, for themselves, essence. He turns fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, stupidity into understanding, understanding into stupidity. 2008, p. 160).

In short, the idea of invisible hand presents itself as an extraordinary disguise to cover up the real meaning of the social relations of production in capitalism (as well as the nature and role of the State). In conclusion, we can find, albeit implicitly, a theory of capitalist economic servitude in Smith's great work. He asks himself, "what are the common or normal wages of the work?" (SMITH, 1996, p. 118). After a long digression on the clashes between workers and bosses, he concludes that the real (natural) price of work is the worker's subsistence price. For, “[…] although in disputes with the workers the bosses generally have an advantage, there is a certain rate below which it seems impossible to reduce normal wages for a long time, even in the case of the least qualified type of work […]” ( SMITH, 1996, p. 120).

The naturalization of wages contradicts all hope in capitalism as a social formation of free men. First, because it conditions the salaried worker to a minimum participation in the social product, that is, all the economic surplus, despite being the result of his work, is privately appropriated by a “special” class of men, the capitalists. Second, because the idea of ​​freedom derived from this social relationship is not substantive, as such its essence consists only in a negation, whether of a state of servitude or slavery. The combination of self-interest and freedom presents itself to the wage-earner only as a "promise"; of a possible greater participation in the result of the material wealth of society. However, only capitalists can be favored by such a combination, as they are the direct beneficiaries of the economic surplus (due to private ownership of the means of production and subsistence), while salaried workers only have the share that corresponds to their reproduction as a necessary class for the production of goods. such a surplus. Therefore, self-interest and freedom, generalized under the cloak of the invisible hand, present themselves only as constructs social; an ideological way of justifying the appropriation of economic surplus by a class to the detriment of society as a whole.

Thus, since its inception, capitalism has as its foundation and essence the private appropriation of the social product; its great difference in relation to previous forms of production and appropriation lies in the apparent freedom of the individual, especially of the social subject that produces value, the salaried worker, established through the figure of legal equality. However, historically we found that legal equality without a corresponding economic equality (equal income for all social subjects as opposed to the trinitarian form of capitalist distribution between interest-profit, salary and land rent), in the context of a high development of the productive forces, it can and has produced an unimaginable amount of material wealth, however, for a few, and at an extraordinary social, human and environmental cost.

Taking a leap towards the new globality, Lefebvre (1973, p. 97), already warned that this had “[...] as meaning and as an end the re-production of production relations, even more than immediate profit or the growth of production […]". In turn, it is accompanied by a “profound qualitative change in these relationships”, reinforcing their aspects of exploitation, expropriation and predation. The will to power, reflected in the “capacities of coercion and violence”, based on economic power, assumes a central aspect in the strategies of “search for super profit”, in the conduct of the State and in international relations. In turn, as the aforementioned author also points out, “economic and social laws lose their physical (natural) described by Marx and therefore blind and spontaneous”; and they become more and more intentional (established to serve specific capital purposes).

The new global class, derived from the process described above and thickened by the capitalist digital-financial accumulation regime, has contributed to the establishment of new forms of apartheid: a world in which the underclass simply does not exist. Žižek (2011, p. 18) cites Shanghai and São Paulo as concrete examples of this process.

“In contemporary China, the nouveau riche built isolated communities according to the idealized model of a “typical” Western city; near Shanghai, for example, there is a “real” replica of a small English town, with a main street,pubs, an Anglican church, a Sainsbury's supermarket etc.; the entire area is isolated from the surroundings by an invisible, but no less real, dome. There is no longer a hierarchy of social groups within the same nation: the residents of this city live in a universe in which, in their ideological imaginary, the surrounding world of the “lower class” simply does not exist […] São Paulo […] boasts 250 helipads in your core area. To avoid the danger of mixing with the common people, the rich in São Paulo prefer to use helicopters, so that, looking at the city's sky, we really have the impression of being in a futuristic megalopolis of the type you see in films like Blade Runner ou The fifth Element: the common people swarming the dangerous streets below and the rich floating higher in the sky.”

The range of the top 10 CEO salaries (Chief Executive Officer) North Americans, in the early 2000s, varied between U$ 16,8 million annually (James McNerney) and 52,2 million (Ray Irani). In 2012, CEO salaries at large companies averaged more than $10,5 million a year. How to justify that a single individual holds a net worth of US$ 43 billion, plus a package of bonuses and shares in a company estimated at US$ 96 million, as is the case of Larry Elison, co-founder and CEO of Oracle and the 5th most rich in the world? In this sense, Sassen (2010) describes a new geography of centers and margins, which reproduces and expands existing inequalities (social, wage, racial or ethnic segmentation): “workers with higher educational background in the corporate sector see their income increase to unusual levels , while workers and workers with little or medium training see theirs sink” (SASSEN, 2010, p. 95).

In the context of the unfolding of the new accumulation process of the 2014st century, Sassen, in another book, “Expulsions”, from XNUMX, deals with what she called “new logics of expulsion”. Its introductory title is already quite suggestive, “the wild selection”. For her, this new phase of advanced capitalism reinvented the mechanisms of primitive accumulation, whether through innovations that increased the capacity for extracting natural resources, resulting in ever-increasing extensions of land and dead water; whether through complex operations and a lot of specialized innovation, related, for example, to outsourcing logistics or to the finance algorithm, giving rise to extreme forms of poverty and social brutalization.

“We face a terrible problem in our global political economy: the emergence of new expulsion logics. In the last two decades, there has been a huge growth in the number of people, companies and places expelled from the central social and economic orders of our time. This turn towards radical expulsion was made possible by elementary decisions in some cases; in others, for some of our most advanced economic and technical achievements. The concept of evictions takes us beyond the familiar idea of ​​growing inequality as a way of understanding the pathologies of current global capitalism. It also brings to the fore the fact that some forms of knowledge and intelligence that we respect and admire are often at the origin of long chains of transactions that can end in simple evictions.” (SASSEN, 2016, p. 9)

The capitalism of the XNUMXst century, already moving its accumulation process towards a new transformation (of a quantum nature), is configured by a new mode of production and extraction of wealth, knowledge and power; also capable of creating new and increasingly sophisticated forms of value generation, dynamics of accumulation and social relations based on the exploitation of labor, expropriation of social rights, expulsions and predation of natural resources. Detaching the invisible hand from its fanciful idyllic aspect and revealing how much blood has already been shed and continues to be shed should be the central concern of Economic Science as a social science.

The ramifications of the invisible hand idea reached their limit; brought humanity to its knees. It remains to be seen whether there is enough humanity in humanity (and enough time) for it to finally be able to emancipate itself by its own hands; and stop being ruled by a hand that she can't see, but which has so far ruthlessly decided her destiny. Finally, we need to strip ourselves of our prejudices and our intellectual arrogance and turn to Marx. He, like no one else, with superhuman effort and enormous personal cost, revealed to us through his theory of value and surplus-value the guts of the capitalist mode of production. Because, it is from this deeper portion, from the sense of exploitation of work as a form of sociability in this society, that we will be able to think and put into practice a new sociability, free of exploitation, if this is a possible task for us as beings driven by at the same time by impulses of life and death.

*José Micaelson Lacerda Morais is a professor in the Department of Economics at URCA. Author, among other books, of Capitalism and the revolution of value: apogee and annihilation.

 

References


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LESLIE, TE Cliffe. The Political Economy of Adam Smith. London: Fortnightly Review, November 1, 1870. Available at: https://socialsciences.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/leslie/leslie01.html

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SASSEN, Saskia. Sociology of globalization🇧🇷 Porto Alegre: Artmed, 2010.

________. expulsions. Rio de Janeiro, 2016.

SMITH, Adam. The Wealth of Nations: Inquiry into its Nature and Causes. Editora Nova Cultural: São Paulo, 1996.

________. Theory of Moral Sentiments: Essay for an Analysis of the Principles by which Men Naturally Judge the Conduct and Character, First of Their Neighbors, Then of Themselves. 2nd ed. São Paulo: Editora WMF Martins Fontes, 2015. Kindle format.

ŽIŽEK, Slavoj. First as a tragedy, then as a farce. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.

 

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