The Money Theory of the State (Merchant, 2021)

dantepenman_castlebureaucracy

Reflections on Modern Monetary Theory

by Jamie Merchant, Feb 2021, Brooklyn Rail: Field Notes

“No domination is so easily borne, even so gratefully felt, as the domination of high-minded and highly educated officials.”

— Georg Friedrich Knapp1

Kafka’s unfinished final novel, The Castle, can be read as a parable about the misrecognition of power. In the course of trying to discover if he has, or has not, been appointed as a land surveyor by the local authorities, the protagonist K. becomes obsessed with the authorities themselves, the officials of the great castle whose shadow looms over the village below. Its bureaucrats cut nearly superhuman figures, working tirelessly day and night on countless cases while keeping track of innumerable files with an otherworldly zeal that overawes K. and the villagers, who respect and even revere them. Over the course of the narrative, though, it becomes evident that all this strenuous paper-pushing might be completely pointless, directed to tasks they may never complete, involving problems and questions that cannot be resolved or perhaps never existed in the first place—including, probably, K.’s appointment. The officials might very well have no idea what they are doing, or they might be useless drones, working themselves to death toiling away in busy work that never goes anywhere. But for K. this is unthinkable. For their prestige flows from the impersonal rule of the mechanism, the calcified, methodical, formal procedures that, as in a cage, enfold and dominate the officials and the villagers alike. K. deploys his own formidable powers of reasoning to penetrate their mysteries in his quest to gain permission to enter the castle. But the more he learns, the more he calmly reasons and deduces the state of affairs with impeccable logic, the more transfixed he is by the officials’ cabbalistic aura, the more entangled he becomes in their byzantine networks of influence, and the more he effectively dominates himself.

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