Some newspapers are describing Mervyn King’s recent declaration of ‘no money left’ as a ‘coup’ against Gordon Brown. What King (governor of the bank of England) said was that further stimulus-flavoured borrowing wasn’t really a practical options, despite Brown, I gather, being quite keen on the idea.
The ‘coup’ interpretation is that by effectively depriving the government of the credibility necessary to get through another stimulus plan, King has usurped Brown’s role as policy-maker, taking control into his own hands.
Obviously this is metaphor, not to mention hyperbole and, perhaps, onomatapoeia. But it’s also a perfect example, if you look at the unexamined assumptions, of reification serving to normalise the power of the bourgeoisie.
Because to say that this event now is the the one that represents a ‘coup’, a seizure of policy-making power by an individual outside the government, requires that we blind ourselves to the ongoing policy-making power weilded by capitalists. For example, why were the bail-outs needed? Because without them, the story goes, banks would not lend to each other or to businesses, and businesses would thus not do business or employ people.
But what this amounts to saying is that bankers and businesses would not do their thing unless gifted with great wealth from the public. Now of course, for individuals to say “I won’t dispose of myself and my capabilities except on conditions A B anc C” is within their rights – but bankers and businesses (in short, owners of capital, capitalists) are not acting here as individuals but as controllers of society’s wealth.
So the situation amounts to this: that those who collectively own our society demand more money, and we have no choice but to give it to them because they are quite capable of destroying our economy – precisely because they own most of our wealth and will only allow it to be used on conditions favourable to them.
That’s just one example. Similar things apply to every policy that’s ever been justified in terms of ‘providing a favourable climate to investors’ or of not ‘driving away businesses’. The way that our economy is managed by the government is dictated by the class of the economically powerful.
But why is this not seen as a ‘coup’ (apart from being ongoing rather than sudden and new)? Because the fact that people who are in control of more resources than most whole countries, will use it only when that is beneficial to them, and only in ways that further enrich them, is not seen as a choice they make but as natural law. It’s just how things work. It’s like the tides or the weather.
And when the odd wealthy individual does decide that, having found themselves dictating the disposition of the entire GDP of Ghana, they should probably use it for the benefit of more people than themselves, they are seen as heroes and saints (not to mention being occasionally used as an argument against a system in which individuals can acquire such massive control over the lives of others).
This is a perfect example of reification – treating people and their actions as impersonal things and forces. It is a distinctive sort of mentality that is, according to the arguments of many, generated by capitalism.