The Order of Capital

Banksy, Idiots, 2007


Commentary on the recently released book by Clara E. Mattei

Clara E. Mattei launched this year the book The Order of Capital: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way for Fascism, whose reading is very timely for the current Brazilian public debate. From the English war economy, technocratic economists emerged; since the onset of fascism in Italy, there has emerged the habit of governments, when facing fiscal deficits and making spending cuts, first cut services provided to their citizens. Why did this happen?

The austerity effect corresponds to the social suffering caused when States cut public benefits in the name of their solvency (ability to fulfill commitments) for the redemption of public debt securities in the long term. Austerity policies emphasize the most common features of contemporary economic policy: budget cuts especially in social welfare expenditures such as public education, health, housing and unemployment insurance, regressive taxation, deflationary crisis, privatization, wage repression until the “ neoliberal flexibilization” of the labor market via the cutting of labor rights.

This set of public policies grants total primacy to the public debt securities market and, consequently, concentrates financial wealth in their holders – and in all post-fixed investors – via an increase in compound interest. Worse, he is repeatedly presented as capable of “guiding the Nation to better days”.

These policies are echoed by neo-fascist governments when adding attacks on unions against workers' collective bargaining rights. They do not allow for inflationary replacement and real gains in the minimum wage, which is essential for the poor.

Adopt or maintain regressive fiscal policies capable of imposing an unequal division in the fiscal coverage of public expenditures: a larger share of tax revenue from regressive taxes on consumption, paid by society as a whole on its purchases, is combined with progressive tax exemptions on profits and dividends, received by the highest income brackets. In Brazil, this fall in the tax burden on the richest individuals occurred from December 1995, in the first term of the neoliberal government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

However, Clara E. Mattei shows that austerity is not new, nor is it a product of the so-called neoliberal era, which began in the late 1970s with stagflation. Outside, perhaps, the three decades of social democratic expansion following the end of World War II, austerity has been one of the pillars of unequal capitalism.

The usual discourse of former technocrats or senior officials, holders of state command power in the past, apparently seeks only technical or rational solutions to problems, without taking human and social aspects into account. They even announce a false threat: “public credit in Brazil is evaporating”.

The term “technocracy” was originally used to designate the application of the scientific method to solving social problems, in contrast to the traditional political approach. However, it came to be used, popularly, to indicate any type of administration carried out by specialists, holders of the power of the technique.

The etymology of technocrat shows derivation from the Greek words techne, with the meaning of technique, dexterity, ability or aptitude, more kratos, designator of government. She appointed a group of economists under the cover of the fascist government of Benito Mussolini, The Duke, after 1922, adviser of austerity policies in Italy.

These Italian economists had exceptional powers to apply fiscal austerity. They took advantage of this coercive opportunity to explore the scope of the so-called “pure economy”, presented as a natural law and aligned with austerity.

They enjoyed an unprecedented advantage in governance. They could implement economic models directly from abstraction to practical decisions, without the burden of democratic procedures in mediating political and social conflicts of interest. Thanks to Mussolini, they had the help of political oppression.

To persist, even today, austerity requires specialists always willing to talk about its abstract virtues. This misleading propaganda continues through a media cast of technocratic figures.

Economists, immersed in fascism and/or war economics, including cultural ones, assumed unprecedented roles in the formulation and implementation of economic policies to guide reforms favorable to the free functioning of the pseudo supernatural Market – omnipresent, omnipotent, but not omniscient . These economists supported themselves, theoretically, in the principles of “pure economics” – then an emerging paradigm, but now fundamental to Economics, still dominant in the hearts and minds of today's technocrats, within the neoclassical tradition of economics. mainstream.

The “pure economics” paradigm is only the first step in the politically “neutral” method of economic analysis in relation to individual behaviors and social inequality. By dissociating the economic process from conflicts of political interest – that is, by presenting economic theory as abstract rationality and conceptualizing markets as free from the social relations of domination – pure economics eluded public opinion in search of consent in capitalist systems. It allowed its domination relations to masquerade as economic rationality.

From Clara Mattei's Marxist point of view, the strength of technocracy lay in its power to frame the most fundamental goals of austerity – re-establishing capitalist relations of production and subjugating the working class to accept the inviolability of private property and wage relations – as a return to the natural state of the economy, in this case, the activity of producing and selling goods.

The “apolitical” theory of these economists centered on an idealized caricature of an economic being: the rational saver. He created the illusion that anyone could be, regardless of their conditions and material endowments, if they worked hard enough.

With this (false) speech, he discredited and devalued workers without surplus income. They are no longer understood as productive members of society to be seen as passive subjects, given their inability to practice virtuous economic behavior such as parsimony. How can people save money without having received it in excess?!

Media economists are against the Workers' Party because, through their neoliberal/neofascist lens, the productive class in society is not the working class, but the capitalist class. They only respect people capable of saving and investing, thus contributing to private capital accumulation and carrying public debt.

Clara Mattei's book dives into the paradox of a doctrine presented as apolitical, but with the central purpose of “the taming (and/or domination) of men”. Under the guise of depoliticization, technocratic economists carry out the greatest political action of all: bending the working classes to the wills and needs of the capital-owning classes for the enrichment of this small minority.

Austerity proves effective in protecting capitalist hierarchies from harm, during moments of intended social change by the electorate. It enters the scene as a protector of capitalism, it is announced as a means of “fixing” the economy, increasing its “efficiency” by proposing wage adjustments with short-term losses for supposed long-term gains.

The austere limitations imposed on public spending, civil servants' salaries and the minimum wage for retirees would presumably guarantee, for “those who work hard and save a lot”, the only path to survival.

The collective anti-capitalist awakening was accentuated by extraordinary government measures during the war economy (and the recent pandemic), including temporarily halting private capital accumulation. To face the effort of war production (and vaccination), the governments of all nations were forced to intervene in what, until then, was seen as the immaculate domain of the free market.

State interventionism has not only overcome the war and the pandemic. It also made clear that wage relations and the privatization of production – far from being “natural” – are political choices of a society with a capitalist class hegemony.

Emboldened by the new economic precedents of the mobilization effort, workers voted in favor of the government assuming its social responsibility. However, the day-to-day preaching of fiscal responsibility aims to preserve the world as technocratic economists think it exists: without questioning capitalism.

A sense of terror grips neo-fascist economists around the threat of the collapse of the capital order. Against this, they defend an austere solution to the capitalist crisis, when countries would have to marginalize even newly elected political proposals. Such austerity could indirectly do the equivalent of physical violence by fascist militias against workers: defend the capitalist order.

The national state is not presented as the conciliation of class conflict, but as the instrument of enlightened technocrats. For them, the pillars of capitalism should be safeguarded above all with all citizens accepting rule by experts. These rightists remain practitioners of the old austere fascism.

*Fernando Nogueira da Costa He is a full professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Support and enrichment network. Available in


Clara E. Mattei. The Order of Capital: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Way for Fascism. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2022, 480 pages.


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