At the LA Review of Books, Guy Patrick Cunningham reviews David Graeber's recent book The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. Contrary to right-wing dogma, Graeber argues that "free markets" produce more bureaucracy, not less. Here's a snippet of the review:
Financial markets in particular are symbiotic to government. After all, governments maintain currencies, enforce debts (especially through the court system), and underwrite financial institutions. Graeber puts it succinctly: “There’s no such thing as an ‘unregulated’ bank. Nor could there be.” Certainly, it’s fair to wonder how a nation where most bank deposits are insured by the federal government (and where economic crises are answered with massive public bailouts for financial institutions) could ever really “deregulate.” So Graeber is correct that any real left-wing critique of bureaucratization needs to reckon with the financialization of the American economy.
But Graeber takes this reckoning and uses it to introduce an even more potent conversation about structural violence and its effects. Graeber traces the arbitrariness of bureaucracy to the violence underlying society’s institutions: “All of these are institutions involved in the allocation of resources within a system of property rights regulated and guaranteed by governments in a system that ultimately rests on the threat of force.” Throughout history, property rights have only existed when backed by some form of government. And that backing has traditionally meant that those rights will be enforced through physical (i.e., violent) means. For example, if a stranger sets up camp in your backyard, you can call the police to have him taken away. To Graeber, this explains why bureaucracies tend toward arbitrariness — force is inherently arbitrary, and any system that uses force will ultimately draw arbitrary lines itself. In this way he echoes the 20th century novelist/revolutionary Victor Serge’s eloquent formulation, “All violence is dictatorial.”