Power and Productivity: Institutions, Ideology, and Technology in Political Economy

Danielle Allen, Yochai Benkler, Leah Downey, Rebecca Henderson, & Josh Simon, A Political Economy of Justice, (University of Chicago Press 2022).

35 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2022

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 29, 2022


The chapter outlines a basic model for new institutionalist political economy as a frame for analyzing the relationship between productivity and justice in market societies. It combines a basic model for understanding market societies, a framework for integrating the role of racialized and gendered status subordination into the "normal" functioning of market societies throughout their history, and a basic programmatic framework for a post-neoliberal political economy. The chapter begins with theoretical antecedents to the new political economy, and then develops a basic dynamic model that reintegrates history, power, and the social and material context— institutions, ideology, and technology— into our analysis of the economy. Actors and organizations are always already embedded in a material (nature + technology) and social (institutions + ideology) context, in social relations inherited from prior rounds of political, social, and economic struggle. Self-interested and prosocial actors interact to advance their individual or prosocial goals, trading off productivity for power as they act strategically within their institutional, ideological, and material context, and invest effort into shaping future contexts to increase their power in future interactions. Individuals and organizations do so not only at the micro- level but also at the meso-level, as organizations and individuals engage in collective action, bargaining, lobbying, shaping social perceptions, and developing technologies that improve their short-term payoffs and long-term bargaining position. Periods of relative stability form regimes, during which the basic terms of productivity, power, and justice can be adjusted in relatively minor ways, but endogenous crises resulting from the persistent conflict within regimes, or exogenous shocks, lead to repeated periods of instability between regimes, during which conflicts over power in social relations of production, reproduction, meaning-making and authority are up for grabs. As different societies, with different power dynamics, settle into meaningfully different institutional and material context after these conflicts, they begin to diverge in how they trade off productivity and justice, and we begin to see mid- to long-term differentiation among market societies--such as between the United States, the Nordic social democracies, and the mainland European Christian Democratic societies. The chapter then goes on to describe and document how atavistic status subordination along the dimensions of race, gender, and immigration has been a core vector of power-seeking and exploitation within market relations. Power-seeking in social relations of production has always leveraged inherited relations of domination along these dimensions of status subordination, but has also used institutions, ideology, and technology to intensify, legitimate, and reinforce gendered and racialized relations of exploitation and expropriation. The chapter ends by outlining six pillars implied by the model for any programmatic effort to construct a political economic order that would meaningfully reverse the dynamics of increasing inequality and destabilized democracy that have characterized the neoliberal order of the past forty years.

Keywords: political economy, political and social theory

JEL Classification: A13, A14, B52, K00, L10, O30, O40, P1

Suggested Citation

Benkler, Yochai, Power and Productivity: Institutions, Ideology, and Technology in Political Economy (April 29, 2022). Danielle Allen, Yochai Benkler, Leah Downey, Rebecca Henderson, & Josh Simon, A Political Economy of Justice, (University of Chicago Press 2022)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4114213

Yochai Benkler (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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