Econ 191: Spring 2012: U.C. Berkeley: Fiscal Policy in the Great Recession (April 17, 2012)
Caius Suetonius Tranquillus: "The Lives of the Twelve Caesars"

Henry Farrell vs. David Graeber on American "Imperialism"

Farrell 6-0, 6-0, 6-0:

Because: Imperialism!: Is my post, as Graeber claims, an example of deliberate delegitimization, a “case in point” of dismissing someone interested in “the actual connections between US military power, the banking system, and global trade … as a paranoid lunatic”

Hardly. And Graeber himself doesn’t seem to believe it – he later suggests that he isn’t sure what the difference is between our positions on imperialism. I have no problems at all with someone talking about the connections between US military power, the banking system and global trade. Nor do I think that the word ‘empire’ is at all provocative…. My issue is… [that] his particular account of empire is neither very plausible, nor supported by much in the way of evidence….

Is it an “obnoxious rhetorical strategy” to cite to Graeber’s own description of what he claims to do in the book?

Graeber’s pique seems to be a bit over the top. If Graeber wants to pat himself on the back… for “back[ing] up all his claims” (his words) with copious references, that is fine…. But if the book actually makes extremely strong claims which are inadequately footnoted, it seems to me to be entirely fair to point out that the author isn’t living up to his own stated standards.

Do I say, as Graeber claims, that one can’t and shouldn’t talk about ruling classes?

Demonstrably not. As I make quite clear… the problem is… seeing the architecture of world politics as a seamless product of deliberate design…. Graeber radically overestimates the extent to which the system that we live in is a planned one….

Am I “entirely oblivious” to one of the key arguments of the book – “one that in fact breaks dramatically with much leftist orthodoxy,” the “innovative” claim that “while markets are founded and usually maintained by systematic state violence, in the absence of such violence, they will quickly turn into something far less obnoxious—and can even come to be seen as the very basis of freedom and autonomy.

Actually, not so much. I certainly don’t see this claim as a substantial innovation that really gives Marx’s Capital a good talking-to; instead, I see it as a standard anarchist argument, and the main cause of the last chapter’s weaknesses…. [T]he specific point that I was making is that sometimes individuals, in pursuit of autonomy, might prefer that these exchanges not be so reabsorbed, and, instead, remain disembedded….

*Do I say that Graeber *is “driven by [his] biases to become a bad scholar”?

Not only do I not say that, I don’t even hint it…. [M]y problem was with (a specific section) of the work, rather than with Graeber himself…. Most academics are capable of distinguishing between criticism (even tough criticism), of their work, and ad hominem or ad baculam criticisms of their intrinsic worth as scholars….

Did I, “with consumate dishonesty,” ignore Graeber’s framing of the chapter around Hudson’s work?

Again, no. The problem, as I lay it out, is that Graeber is looking to establish that the US’s unparalleled military force is the lynchpin of its domination of the world economy. But Hudson… is arguing that US domination of the world economy is the lynchpin of its unparalleled military force. Graeber… has talked to him to confirm that Hudson believes that “the US government’s position come[s] down to ‘adopt our version of the free market or we’ll shoot you.’” But the issue is not what Hudson believes – Hudson may believe that he knows the song the Sirens sang, and the name that Ulysses took among the women for all I know, or care. The issue is what Hudson provides evidence for…. Hudson’s own conclusions in the book as to what underpins other countries’ acceptance of US imperialism are not especially satisfactory in themselves, but don’t support Graeber either.

Only America has shown the will to create global international structures and restructure them at will to fit its financial needs as these have evolved from hyper-creditor to hyper-debtor status. It is as if European and Asian society lack some gene for institutional self-programming for their own economic evolution, and have acted simply as the mirror image of America like a dancer following the partner’s lead.

I’m not seeing much to support claims about a militarized reign of terror here…. [I]f this is the empirical cornerstone for Graeber’s arguments, it’s not a very good one….