Economic theology

THERE are signs that a mini-rally may have started, especially in the currency market. Unless monetary policy loosens, there is a possibility that the lira will equilibrate around about what is at currently for some time. That would be 7.50-8.00 perhaps, unless something more radical imposes itself or is administratively orchestrated successfully so confidence is restored anew. Now the ‘all local assets are jointly one asset’ thesis of olden times does not look true anymore. Rather, we had better consider each market separately. The stability of the lira is the key driver and all that is warranted these days is to keep monetary policy tight until the lira firmly entrenches in the neighborhood of a temporary equilibrium. Yet it takes a lot more than that because bygones are bygones. Considerations that economic thinking has been conflated with all sorts of thoughts outside the scope of today’s modern economics abound. It wouldn’t be as easy as it was a decade ago.


When it comes to the question of the interest rate, analysts get confused. Is it a religious belief that the rate of interest should be kept as low as possible – so it disappears in the limit? If so, is this belief about the real rate or the nominal rate? If it is about the real rate, how to measure it? Or maybe the rate-cutting “bias” as opposed to hiking has nothing to do with connotations of a theological nature. If so, then is it only a matter of convenience or an economic judgment or a “strong (economic) belief” in the virtues of low rates? Do U-turns occur every now and then simply because they must – because there is no other option left – or because judgments change as conditions change? Actually there is more to all this if one looks at the whole problem of the oikonomia from a historical perspective. We ordinarily don’t get back that far and don’t base policy decisions on philosophical-historical retrospectives. What if some people do so? What would they think and on the basis of what? Let’s take a look at economic theology – yes it exists – at least for argument’s sake.


Even in the Hellenistic age – and then more explicitly in the Imperial age – lexicons of politics and economics got entangled so as to produce the oxymoron term political economy. That would be a term Aristotle couldn’t make sense of because for him there is a difference, even opposition between oikos and polis. Others have even coined a distinction between an oikonomia basilike (national economy) and even an oikonomia politike (economy of the city or the commune). Agamben said there was the commutation that posed the oikia as “a polis on a small and contracted scale”, and the economy as “a contracted politeia”. That makes good sense because in the political theology of the years 1000-1500 kings and popes were also both self-similar and reflections of each other. Conversely, the polis is presented as “a large house” and politics as “a (public) economy”. In fact, originally oikonomia means “administration of the house”. And by way of extension, it has become the art of governing the commons. For Aristotle, the techne oikonomike differs from politics just as the house (oikia) differs from the city (polis). Again, Agamben would like us to consider that “this distinction is restated in the Politics, in which the politician and the king – who belong to the sphere of the polis – are qualitatively opposed to the oikonomos and the despotes – who are referred to the sphere of the house and the family”. Because Plato denied the possibility of a conflict between the polis and the house – that is between public and private spheres – Aristotle insisted on the fact that politics isn’t simply the economics of the polis and economics isn’t simply the politics of the house. Therefore, running the whole national economy as if it were a firm wouldn’t make sense.


Practically it could mean two things. First, because god has set in motion this wretched earth so it stays in equilibrium forever until judgment day, it is by definition an economical order. That is, the principle of parsimony should hold. On top of that its design must be (dynamically) optimal. Now this inter-temporality is a bit of a problem because economic time and theological time may not be the same thing. Anyhow, if the way things are being administered, as if run by an oikonomos, then there shouldn’t be any deviation from the already set path because it is optimal. Perhaps this explains in some sense why throughout history critiques of the economical were treated on a par with outright political opposition. The second is, of course, the enigma of the interest rate. Nevertheless, I have alluded to that elsewhere. Let’s suffice to utter the strong claim of general equilibrium theory that in market economies the rate of interest and the rate of profit are intertwined, and in equilibrium they tend to converge.


Well, when it comes to reforms and remaking, rebidding, recasting and such, what happens? Perhaps we have to secularize or de-theologize the outlook first in the manner Carl Schmitt suggested back in the 1920s. Consider Alexander Zinoviev’s much-praised The Yawning Heights, the first law of Ibanskian life – meaning the Soviet Union of the 1970s – appears to be “the well-known rule whereby people who want to make a change never change anything, while changes are only affected by people who had no intention of doing so”. Since the set of political possibilities is empty, all change come a fortiori as by-products, and not as consequences of intentional actions. The second law states that “success achieved under any leadership must be success achieved by that leadership” and, finally, “for every disaster a guilty person outside the leadership can be found”. Now, the second and the third laws are kind of natural. Instances of such conduct and codification can be found anywhere and anytime. But the first is not an attribute that is so ubiquitously distributed. The real thread that links them all and binds them is that nobody actually believes in anything. In Ibansk, there is no belief closure. For the Soviet Union, in particular and inter alia, Timur Kuran labelled this feature “true lies”: Publicly announced preferences and privately held ones are different, even contradictory. Indeed, preference falsification seems to be a pervasive and strategically manipulated phenomenon in many parts of the globe. And it would not simply wash to say, “be – or behave – yourself”, since “be yourself” is a command that is self-defeating. As Emily Dickinson reminded us in her Complete Poems: “The Heart cannot forget/ Unless it contemplates/What it declines”.

This is an example of willing what cannot be willed. Being oneself – as in “be yourself”- is an impossible undertaking since, according to Jon Elster – in Political Psychology – it amounts to a confusion of internal and external negations. Being oneself and trying to forget are endogenously driven projects. For instance, trying to forget requires the representation of the absence of what is to be forgotten and, thereby, the presence of it. One may grant that anyone willing to combat in warfare is insane and that he should have the right to be exempted on psychiatric grounds. He only has to ask. But if he asks for exemption, then he does not want to go to war and therefore he is sane. He will not be exempted from duty thereof. In fact, the lore has it that, during some stage of the Vietnam War, U.S. military authorities had declared volunteers unfit for service, probably in the belief that volunteering at that moment was a clear sign of incapacitating mental instability.


Now, in Turkey, the first law of Ibansk has almost surely failed so far. Most instances of political actions can clearly be delineated back to the motives and opportunities, and the will and power to carry them out. No wonder, social and/or political engineering in these lands is a techne that everybody can easily understand how it works – or at least think so. More often than not it is true. However, not all action plans work well for those who initiate them. The gist of the matter is all action plans work for some, even if they do not work or those who bear the flag. It is in this sense that everything is deliberately designed and rational. This is admittedly a working hypothesis only, but it is a promising one. So, what? Elections are coming up, and even if they aren’t around the corner, the political design targeting them has already begun to take shape. We are in a zone of “happening”: now the happening may take a year but what is bound to happen is already “happening” in a sense, as if in slow motion.

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