During recent decades market-oriented economics has emerged as
the dominant discourse of everyday life in the U.S., displacing
religion, politics, and entertainment. This discourse is, of course,
overwhelmingly the laissez-faire economics developed by the neoclassical
tradition stemming from Adam Smith, not the regulatory, welfare
state economics of John Maynard Keynes and later neo-Keynesians,
nor the radical economics of Karl Marx and other socialists, nor
that of non-Marxist progressives. In the U.S., this mainstream economics
seems increasingly a truncated ideology whose doctrines are ever
more broadly disseminated through all the channels of social life,
especially academia and the media. A neoliberal market-oriented
perspective conditions not only our thoughts and decisions, but
our imaginations and futures. Nothing appears to exist outside its
scope. Alternatives and countercurrents hardly register in the public
domain, and when they do so, it is typically in the form of unmotivated
eruptions and partisan battles like impromptu boycotts and protests
and unforeseen strikes, minor disruptions.
It is in this context that certain countercurrents and alternatives
take on significance. Among these are the "critical economics" movement
composed mainly of progressive, Marxist, and feminist economists
in the university; the new economics movement amongst literary critics,
many of whom are liberal neo-Keynesians; and the recent critics
of globalization who tend to be reformers and cultural critics working
toward new post-communist liberal-to-socialist political economies.
A longer version of my paper considers each of these three phenomena
in more detail, demonstrating that critical economists, neo-Keynesians,
and progressives, both inside and outside the university, fault
mainstream neoclassical economics for a recurring set of shortcomings.
To be specific and to preview the argument, the homo economicus
posited by orthodox theory stands accused of being self-interested,
competitive, utilitarian, and calculating to the degree that little
space exists for cooperation, altruism, family, or community. Economic
man's macho obsession with consumption and maximization renders
him a one-dimensional figure, occupying a single unhealthy subject
position. In addition, mainstream economics slights an array of
major concerns, especially environmental care, the rights of future
generations, social justice, shared decision making, social safety
nets, fair labor practices, and reciprocity between centers and
peripheries. Not surprisingly, those critical of mainstream business-oriented
academic economics often stage returns- sometimes unconsciously-to
"political economy," retrieving the moral and political dimensions
of this old discipline, joining up with recent traditions of cultural
studies that refuse to leave economics to professional economists
and market doctrine. I side with this cultural studies orientation.
Many of today's diverse countercurrents and alternatives encouragingly
coalesce around a Lilliputian strategy, a disaggregated postmodern
front of new social movements, non-governmental organizations, unions,
and poor people seeking similar reforms, restitutions, and transformations
of the political economic order. This new front has been most visible,
of course, during recent protests against the World Trade Organization.
Perhaps the most dramatic element of "critical economics" is its
critique of homo economicus (HE), rational economic man, the self-interested,
fully conscious, calculating maximum utilitizer of orthodox economics
and its metanarratives. This attack is part of the wider postmodern
critique of Enlightenment humanism, particularly its promotion of
the Cartesian subject, a masculine figure whose instrumental reason
controls desire, privileging mind over matter, order over chaos,
self over society, work over play, and competition over cooperation.
According to feminist economists, for instance, HE is a fictional
figure, a straw man, who construes altruism and community as irrational
and feminine, valorizing his own atomized and isolated, possessive
individualism. Consider one example.
In her "Robinson Crusoe: The Quintessential Economic Man?," economist
Ulla Grapard criticizes Daniel Defoe's fictional version of homo
economicus celebrated by economists from Adam Smith and David Ricardo
onwards.1 Shipwrecked and isolated on his primitive but charming
Caribbean island for 30 years, Crusoe (a former slave trader and
colonialist), a self-sufficient producer and consumer of goods and
services, is unrealistically not bothered with family, sexuality,
society, politics, or history. (Before his adventure on the island,
he is an exile from stifling middle-class life.) HE improbably represents
man in a state of nature, optimizing work, consumption, and leisure,
keeping ledgers all the while. On this fantasy island, Crusoe owns
and controls everything, especially nature. There are no women to
worry about. Friday, a person of color and his slave, is a passive,
child-like inferior, a feminized housekeeper. In Grapard's argument
Crusoe is the universal subject of Western science and philosophy,
a socially constructed masculine figure, acting in exploitative,
sexist, and racist ways characteristic of neoclassical economics
yesterday and today.
New Economic Literary Criticism
In their historical introduction to The New Economic Criticism:
Studies at the Intersection of Literature and Economics, a recent
landmark collection of twenty-two papers growing out of a mid-1990s
conference, editors Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen offer a wide-ranging
and incisive overview of this interdisciplinary field (complete
with bibliography). They briefly review the last three decades and
then single out for preliminary discussion six main aspects of the
movement: work on the economics of authorship; research on the relationship
of money and language; the emergence of critical economics; theory
of gift exchange; the main economic approaches to literature; and
future directions. Despite its range and sophistication, there are
some limitations with this introduction and collection, as my full
commentary on the new economic literary criticism details. Woodmansee
and Osteen single out two stages in the historical development of
the new economic criticism amongst literary critics. After the groundbreaking
books by Marc Shell, The Economy of Literature (1978), and Kurt
Heinzelman, The Economics of the Imagination (1980), they cite a
flurry of New Historicist and some cultural studies texts from the
late 1980s to the present, featuring as a prime example Walter Benn
Michael's The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism: American
Literature at the Turn of the Century (1987). But they overlook
work in many key areas, notably research on subaltern literatures;
critiques of the canon and its economics; studies of ethnopoetics
in relation to ghettoes, reservations, and other impoverished enclaves;
British cultural studies of popular culture and its commodification;
Marxist studies of global capitalist culture; and the class system
in academe, especially concerning part-timers, the star system,
and TA and teacher unionization.
Gift theory, as Woodmansee and Osteen make clear, plays a revealing
role in recent alternative economic theory. Research on gifts and
primitive exchange, especially in the French line from Marcel Mauss
to Georges Bataille to Jean-Francois Lyotard to Jacques Derrida,2
has provocatively explored issues of altruism, obligation, reciprocity,
and expenditure. Key questions for economic literary criticism and
economics arise in this area. Is a perfect gift-one with no strings
attached-possible? (Interestingly, men and women tend to answer
that question differently.) Is there a gender dynamic to gifts?
Do gift exchanges occur outside of economic accounting? How do the
subject positions of gift givers compare to homo economicus? Do
gifts disrupt prized neoclassical notions such as economic equilibrium?
Don't gifts--insofar as they are unforeseen and excessive like panics--inject
irrationality into the economy, and thereby strategically raise
special doubts about the mainstream doctrines of maximum utility
and rational decision making? Gift theory poses a number of significant
challenges to mainstream economic doctrines, but characteristically
from outside the field of economics. It is a topic mainly for anthropology.
Most importantly, it introduces alternative utopian dimensions into
economics, trying to imagine non-monetized and non-commodified exchanges
free of the baggage of homo economicus, GNP, and the rest of orthodox
dogma. Is there anything before or outside (market) economics?--that
is, in some senses, the most challenging question of all today.
Significantly, the new economic literary criticism appears programmatically
miffed about the left anti-capitalist orientation of many New Historicists.
New economic literary critics are not Marxists, generally appearing
to be liberal pluralists with neo- Keynesian sentiments. (Yet consider
Marc Shell who is studiously neutral.) In making common cause with
"critical economics," these literary intellectuals loosely affiliate
themselves with some Marxist economists, although they do not personally
identify with the working class or socialism or the wider Lilliputian
front. A main shortcoming of the new economic literary criticism,
as configured in Woodmansee and Osteen's bulky collection, is the
absence of discussion about the politics of economics. By ferreting
out the politics at work in these many new economic literary studies,
one can extrapolate a spectrum that runs from moderate to liberal
political values, with more extreme ends absent. Why? The omission
of much discussion about standpoint theory in the volume raises
questions about the larger movement (not school) as broadly configured
by Woodmansee and Osteen. It is hard to know why they omitted the
exciting work on postmodern culture, globalization, and late capitalism
usually associated with, to name just three well-known texts, Fredric
Jameson's Postmodernism, or The Logic of Late Capitalism (1991),
David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), and New Times:
The Changing Face of Politics in the 1990s (1990), edited by Stuart
Hall and Martin Jacques. Is this a political exclusion? The odd
effect is that the pressing issues surrounding economic globalization
go undiscussed. The new economic literary criticism appears, as
a result, to be a middle-of-the-road branch of literary history
and criticism largely focused on earlier times, unselfconsciously
rooted in present-day political economy about which it has little
to say. It is separate from, and evidently out of sympathy with,
much of cultural studies, especially the influential British lines
stemming from Raymond Williams, the New Left Review, and the University
of Birmingham's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, the latter
of which continues to shape much U.S. cultural studies.
The field of globalization studies has been forming for a long time,
though its contemporary origins date from the symbolic tearing down
in 1989 of the Berlin Wall and the proclamation of the triumphant
capitalist New World Order. This turn of events very much concerns
the definition and the work of current cultural studies of all varieties.
There are two well-recognized schools of thought about capitalist
globalization, as Anthony Giddens, among many others, has argued.3
The hyper-globalizers, associated with neoclassical economics and
transnational business, celebrate the erosion of the nation-state
and the formation of spectacularly profitable regional economic
zones spurred on by market imperatives. The skeptics of globalization,
affiliated with left-wing politics and economics, lament the collapse
of the regulated welfare state and the spreading disorders of consumer-oriented
society. A few skeptics regard globalization as a myth and dangerous
master narrative. Overlooked by Giddens is an obvious third school,
the reformers, usually liberals, who promote globalization stripped
of its excesses.
What do the reformers of economic globalization have to say? Liberal
billionaire financier George Soros, to take one famous example,
in his celebrated 1998 Atlantic Monthly article on global society
anxiously enumerated five main deficiencies of the global capitalist
system: uneven distribution, financial instability, threat of monopolies
and oligopolies, erosion of welfare state, and absence of shared
values to insure social cohesion.4 Along the way Soros, a neo-Keynesian,
singles out other telling deficiencies of global capitalism such
as its erroneous laissez-faire beliefs in the self-correcting power
of the market and in rational expectations and equilibrium; its
asymmetries between centers and peripheries; and its inadequate
protection of human rights, the environment, fair labor practices,
social justice, and individual freedom.
Given Soros's damning indictment, one can understand the sardonic
yet completely serious slogan uttered by the left-wing economist
and skeptic of globalization Robin Hahnel: "Bring back the Keynesians.
Any Keynesian!"5 Hahnel's illuminating little book, Panic Rules!
Everything You Need to Know about the Global Economy, which originated
as a series of articles in Z magazine on "Capitalist Globalism in
Crisis," was recently published by South End Press as a manual for
progressive non-economist readers. Though a professional economist,
Hahnel is surprisingly straightforward throughout his book, as,
for instance, in his admonition "stop corporate-sponsored globalization
by any means necessary" (106), although he believes economic globalization
can be rendered useful. Given the current triumph of hyper-globalization,
the return of reformist Keynesians of any stripe would represent,
in Hahnel's view, measured progress at this point, yet not the ideal
As Hahnel configures matters, there are two schools of thought in
mainstream U.S. economics, the "A Team" of free-market, neoliberals
in charge since the early 1970s and the "B Team" of Keynesian liberals
in charge during earlier decades. Both teams support capitalism
and corporate-sponsored globalization. What is needed now is a "C
Team," a people's movement populated by progressives of all sorts,
unions, farmers, members of new social movements, non-governmental
organizations, and the disenfranchised around the globe. (Here I
would add critical economists.) This is the "Lilliputian front"
once again, which promises to expand in the days ahead.6
For humanity's sake, economics should not be left to professional
marketoriented economists-that is an argument of many critical economists,
neo-Keynesians, and C Teamers, though not of mainstream economists.
Not surprisingly, political economy is making a public return under
the pressure of economic globalization and the New World Order (in
a second phase since September 11).7 "Lilliputians" are growing
in numbers as problems with global capitalism spread and countercurrents
mount.8 It is not surprising in this context that feminist critics,
minority critics, ecocritics, postcolonial theorists, Marxists,
and cultural studies scholars increasingly deal with economic problems,
extending the potential ranks of Lilliputians as well as the scope
of their separate projects. In his Preface to The Cultures of Globalization
(1998), a collection deriving from a mid-1990s conference, Fredric
Jameson prophesies--and I shall close with this magisterial quotation:
"What seems clear is that the state of things the word globalization
attempts to designate will be with us for a long time to come; that
the intervention of a political relationship to it will be at one
with the invention of a new culture and a new politics alike; and
that its theorization necessarily uniting the social and the cultural
sciences, as well as theory and practice, the local and the global,
the West and its Others, but also postmodernity and its predecessors
and alternatives, will constitute the horizon of all theory in the
1. Ulla Grapard, "Robinson Crusoe: The Quintessential Economic Man?,"
Feminist Economics 1 (1995): 33-52. A much-discussed strand of "critical
economics," not treated in this paper, is the discourse analysis
launched by Donald (Deirdre) McCloskey in The Rhetoric of Economics
(Madison: U of Wisconsin P,1985) and continued in several subsequent
books and many articles, all critical of mainstream economic modeling
and discourse from a reformist anti-foundationalist perspective.
Pioneering selections of feminist critical economics appear in Beyond
Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics, eds. Marianne A. Ferber
and Julie A. Nelson (Chicago: U of Chicago P,1993), and Out of the
Margin: Feminist Perspectives in Economics, ed. Edith Kuiper and
Jolande Sap (New York: Routledge,1995). To sample critical economics
from a Marxist vantage point, see Rethinking Marxism: A Journal
of Economics, Culture, and Society, edited by Jack Amariglio, David
Ruccio, and Stephen Cullenberg, economists who have themselves published
representative articles, chapters, and books.
2. Major texts of French gift theory include Marcel Mauss, The Gift:
Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. Ian
Cunnison (New York: Norton, 1967); Georges Bataille, The Accursed
Share: An Essay on General Economy, trans. Robert Hurley (New York:
Zone, 1988); Jean-Francois Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, trans. Iain
Hamilton Grant (Bloomington: Indiana UP,1993); and Jacques Derrida,
Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: U
of Chicago P, 1992), and The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago:
U of Chicago P,1995).
3. Anthony Giddens, "On Globalization," UNRSID News 15 (Autumn 1996/Winter
1997), 4. For Giddens, pro and contra positions on economic globalization
are represented, respectively (and accurately, I might add), by
Kenichi Ohmae, The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Interlinked
Economy (New York: Harper Business, 1990) and his The End of the
Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economies (New York: Free Press,
1995) and by Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson, Globalization in Question:
The International Economy and the Possibilities of Governance (Cambridge:
4. George Soros, "Toward a Global Open Society," The Atlantic Monthly,
281 (January 1998): 21-22, 24, 32.
5. Robin Hahnel, Panic Rules! Everything You Need to Know about
the Global Economy (Cambridge: South End P,1999), p. 92.
6. Immanuel Wallerstein earlier and more broadly defined the project
of these "antisystematic" movements in, for example, his Geopolitics
and Geoculture: Essays on the Changing World-System (Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1991), esp. pp. 229-30. See also Michael Hardt and
Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000), pp. 272- 76,
who reflect on the creativity and the cooption of Lilliputian groups;
and Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello, Global Village or Global Pillage:
Economic Reconstruction from the Bottom Up (Boston: South End P,1994).
7. One dramatic example is Jacques Derrida's opening up deconstruction
to the critique of globalization and the rise of the Lilliputian
strategy in his Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work
of Mourning and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York:
Routledge,1994) pp. 77-86. Derrida's critique of the New World Order
centers on Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man
(New York: Free P,1992). But for a ground-breaking post-Marxist
feminist deconstruction of Marxian political economy, see J. K.
Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist
Critique of Political Economy (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1996), esp.
chap. 6 on globalization theory in which the two authors set out
"to reject globalization as the inevitable inscription of capitalism..."
8. The World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle during the week
of 28 November 1999--an event protested by a broad array of some
thousands of "Lilliputians"-canceled its opening and closing ceremonies
as well as its gala evening address from President Bill Clinton
due to street protests marked by excesses from police and the National
Guard. The meeting adjourned in chaos and acrimony with no agenda
set for the subsequent round. This was arguably the most successful
public protest and multinational popular resistance against the
negative consequences of economic globalization during the 1990s.
Others have followed in its wake. For a firsthand account, see Jeffrey
St. Clair, "Seattle Diary: It's a Gas, Gas, Gas," New Left Review
238 (November /December 1999), 81-96.
9. Fredric Jameson, Preface, The Cultures of Globalization, eds.
Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi (Durham: Duke UP,1998), p. xvi.
For two examples of this growing preoccupation, see "Globalization?,"
special issue of Social Text 17.3 (1999), and "Globalizing Literary
Studies," special issue of PMLA 116 (January 2001).