We’re All Equals Because We Can All Be Bought and Sold, Research Time, 11/02/2016

The past few posts may have given you the impression that I’m not a very pro-capitalist person. And I definitely think theres a lot of room for improvement in our economic system, as it is right now. But that doesn’t actually mean I’m anti-capitalist. At least not in the traditional or intuitive sense of the term.

I’ve never been an ordinary person. And I’ve never fit into the most typical styles of the group. An example. I remember in the early months of my friendship with G the libertarian, he accused me, with a slur of “you leftists,” of wanting Sun News off the air.*

The real greatest right-wing tv star in the world. You
don't deserve to eat Donald Trump's stinking gym
, Ezra Levant, you small-timer.

But I actually didn’t have a problem with a heavily conservative tv station being on Canadian cable. My only problems with Sun TV were that their production values made Wayne Campbell’s basement look like a Spielberg film, and they thought pointing a static camera at Ezra Levant screaming at the viewer for 20 minutes was good television.

It’s the same with my general thoughts on capitalism. It’s a perverse economic system, but it really is an engine of liberation, at least in some contexts. And some of those contexts are remarkably fundamental, even if they may sound paradoxical and weird.

Anti-capitalist that he is, Antonio Negri will praise the elements of capitalism that genuinely liberate people. 

Here's one weird, paradoxical kind of liberation you can find in capitalism. Everything has a price. Literally everything.

It goes like this. The logic of capitalism doesn’t permit exceptions. The logic of the sovereign state, in contrast, does. The sovereign state needs its institution of absolute authority (whether that’s a monarch, constitution, or parliament) to be held, at least in some fashion, above the state’s own law.

Once capital takes hold, though there’s no exceptions to its order. That order is price. Literally. Money is the universal medium of exchange – everything can be turned into anything else through the medium of money. The price system is the measurement of all these relations.

He's always known the secret of power
in capitalism. It's no secret.
Everything having its price (at least potentially) is the great equalizer. There are no exceptions from the order of everything’s relation to everything else. So there can be no sovereign power once capitalism truly takes hold. 

The ability to be bought erodes absolute power, because an absolute power needs a wall between itself and the people it orders around. A sovereign institution needs to hold itself above the fray of the people – it justifies its authority over the people largely because of its separateness. 

Remember the story Thomas Hobbes told in Leviathan about what the sovereign power was: it’s the institution that the people give power to, for the sake of protecting them. It’s constituted as an exemption, because the people cut the sovereign off from them by granting it the power of authority.

If you know an institution or a public figure can be bought, it loses its authority. Nothing more democratic than a bribe – if everyone has a price, you just need to name it. It may not be total equality, but it means we’re all the same.


  1. You've just talked yourself into why only rich and powerful people can be trusted in politics. Trump can always go back to his billions, so bribes don't matter to him. This has always been a problem in 'republican' democracies: You can't talk about equality unless people can afford to be wrong.

    1. Today's post has an extremely deep level of irony. Although I wouldn't go so far as to say that there are some who can't be bribed because of their personal riches. Even the super-rich have a price; it just might not be in the form of straight bribery, and it may also just be orders of magnitude higher than is typically on offer from former PM Mulroney's suitcases.

      The larger point is that the perverse levelling effect of capitalism destroys the structure of sovereign authority that stands outside the community. I'll follow this up a little more tomorrow.