Technicizing politics

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Enthusiasm about technology does not come only from Marx, of course. Milton Friedman, the great apostle of the New Right is equally enthusiastic about the possibilities of technical knowledge to emancipate people from what he sees as one of the greatest shackles of all: government and politics. For if politics can be reduced to a series of technical questions to which there are knowable answers, then politics as an engagement of people with different ideas becomes irrelevant. Friedman sees different political philosophies as simply differences over the analysis of the ‘what is’.

If these differences could be empirically removed, they would disappear. Everyone would agree on what had become a technical, rather than a political issue. An example might be the question of collective versus individual behaviour. Once economic science has firmly established which of these two is the most efficient form of human organization, further discussion between ‘left’ and right’ on these issues becomes redundant. Friedman does not discuss the values underlying his criteria: the test of ‘efficiency’ already presupposes that it is the relation between effort (or labour) and profit which forms the parameters of his notion of value. So his appeal to ‘science’, apparently so unbiased, contains a confident assumption that science will support his point of view (Friedman 1953).

For the world of science, at least that world of science examined by Haraway, is not just a world which eschews uncertainty: it is a world which ostracizes all those form of being which it associates with uncertainty – women, people of colour, working-class people, non-European people, children, animals. So to move politics into economics is not just a move about switching from uncertainty- and possibly ignorance, prejudice, impatience – into a world of certainty, science, logic, research, but about switching from a world of uncertainty and unpredictability to a world dominated by certain values, predictable within certain parameters, but ultimately useless, sterile, unscientific because, as Friedman makes (unintentionally) clear, it cannot afford either a theoretic or an empirical engagement with that messy world of others. As well as pre-empting theoretic discussion by assuming that the parameters and values of neo-classical economics are universal, Friedman also manages to disable any appeal to empirical evidence as proof or disproof of his theoretical position.

Whilst claiming a Popperian basis for economics as science, Friedman also claims that empirical discrepancies between economic theory and practical experience are not disconfirming instances, unless trained economists decide that they are (Friedman 1953), an exception which (although it discredits his claim to a Popperian form of science), renders economics impervious to empirical disproof.