The Mad Mad Mad World of Market Capitalism: Integrating Luc Boltanski’s Polities with Ashok Malhotra’s EUM

The Mad Mad Mad World of Market Capitalism: Integrating Luc Boltanski’s Polities with Ashok Malhotra’s EUM

Let me begin by confessing that I did not know the following, till NYT revealed Donald Trump’s abysmal tax records, a couple of days ago:

  • 91 companies in the Fortune 500 group did not pay any taxes for the year ended March 2019 – these included giants such as Amazon, Chevron, Halliburton, and IBM.
  • Another 56 companies of the Fortune 500 paid taxes at effective rates between 0 and 5 percent, approximating to 2.2% effective rate.
  • 379 companies of the Fortune 500 paid an effective tax rate of  11.3 percent as opposed to the statutory tax rate of 21%.
  • Five companies—Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Amazon, and Verizon—collectively enjoyed more than $16 billion in tax breaks in the year 2018-19.
  • The sectors in USA with the lowest effective corporate tax rates in 2018-19 were industrial machinery (-0.6%), utilities, gas and electric (-0.5 percent), motor vehicles & parts (1.5%), oil, gas & pipelines (3.6%), chemicals (4.4%), transportation (8.0%), engineering and construction (8.0%), miscellaneous services (8.3%), publishing and printing (9.8%), and financial (10.2%).
  • Donald Trump has paid no taxes for a large part of his life.

And all this happened before the Pandemic!

Such is the paradigm of market capitalism that there are already people who are openly supporting these firms as well as Donald Trump, arguing and debating that loopholes in the system need to be and are being very intelligently worked with by such firms, never mind the average Joe, who has to scrounge around for survival, worried about health and education and livelihood.

The Indian corporate context is witnessing similar trends – colossal amounts of money are being funneled into the system today. The stock market is booming for reasons that I cannot put a finger to, and all of this gets obfuscated by hyperbolic media on IPL exploits and the diabolical Bollywood circus!

What are my and your political stances?

The answer to this question is not straightforward as our brains are hardwired in a paradigm that does not allow us to engage with this question. Our identity as mindless consumers addicted to the dopamine of catering to needless needs and wanton wants is incapable of such a quest. The answer lies beyond the paradigm and this blog pays homage to two thinkers – Luc Boltanski and Ashok Malhotra who explore new politics and new identities respectively, as well as a certain quality of resonance between the two.

Introduction

I was fortunate enough to attend a webinar anchored by Prof Devi Vijay of IIM Calcutta recently. Devi spoke of her research on subaltern solidarity, and how ‘solidarity’ manifests within the poor and the disenfranchised, and how the subalterns identify more with a polity of ‘civic society’ than competing ideologies of market capitalism or bureaucracies; all this while grappling and engaging with the potentially dehumanizing challenges of palliative care. Devi’s work was on the emergence of new institutions within this paradigm as opposed to traditional organizational theory.

In her presentation, Devi referred to a socio-political construct offered by Luc Boltanski, and I was rapt with attention and wonder, for Boltanski’s construct of emergent and simultaneous political regimes seemed to resonate a lot with Ashok Malhotra’s conceptualization of the EUM. Reading further on the work by Botlanski only affirmed my belief of how collective unconscious cathects all of us – from Boltanski’s stances in the French society to Ashok’s axioms on Indianness.

Part 1

Polities and Universes

On Polities

Luc Boltanski as a sociologist stresses on how it is important to understand and explain away how people justify their stances (like people who defend the fortune 500 and Donald Trump), and the grammar that underlies these stances. Moving away from conventional sociological stances, Boltanski brings in the notion of ontological pluralism – that there are different ways or modes of being, and that any situation would induce different regimes of action triggered by different capacities or sense-making within the human being.

I have liked the term ‘justify’ – for it means taking a stance on dualities that each of us witnesses in life, and the fact that different people would take different stances, dependent on their justification polities.

On Universes

In his work on the EUM Framework, Ashok Malhotra refers to an interplay of multiple universes within an average human being – he offers the notion of ‘universes’ that bring with it values, behavior, preferences, and role-taking proclivities that enliven these universes. He maintains that it is this interplay of these universes that allows for a pluralism within, that each individual subscribes to – and that this interplay manifests into a social stance.

In many ways, Boltanski and Malhotra speak of the phenomena between the individual and the context, except that the former stresses on the polities and the latter looks at internal psychodramas. Both refer to a notion of ‘ethical pluralism’ as the following table seeks to summarize:

Table 1

The MetaphorBoltanski’s Polities
The Socio-political stances
Ashok Malhotra’s EUM
The Psychological Stances
The CLANThe Domestic Polity:

The core principle is the idea of tradition, and which mobilizes the registers of loyalty, friendship, family, and so on.  
The Universe of Belonging & Protection  

The inner needs for safety & belonging, and which manifests in one’s need for homogeneity, loyalty, and tradition.  
The ArenaThe polity of Fame  

This rests on the central principle that “reality is what people think it is,” and which capitalizes on core ideas such as opinion, glory, and social recognition  
The Universe of Strength and Desire  

The inner needs are for individuality, heroism, centrality, and competition for power or desire. Immediate gratification of both is important in a world where opinion is the truth
       
The Machine  The Industrial Polity  

Justification is articulated around the principles of efficacy and performance. The winner in that

polity is the most efficient person.  
The Universe of Roles & Boundaries  

The inner needs are for stability, balance, hierarchy, efficiency and role-performance. Dutifulness and discipline are key.  
The Network  The Market Polity,  

The core principle is that of competition, selfishness, and articulates ideas of interest, richness and the importance of money.  
The Universe of Purpose & Achievement  

The inner needs are driven by purposiveness and need for success as seen in the market world. Technologies of Knowledge are as important as brand of success  
The EcologyThe Civic polity,  

Articulated around the idea that the collective prevails. The civic polity mobilizes the registers of representativeness, legality, officialdom.   Devi speaks of solidarity that manifests and gets legitimized by this polity  
The Universe of Meaningfulness and Intimacy  

The inner needs are driven by a sense of collective, and expressed as inclusivity, fairness, diversity, and dialogue.   Empathy and compassion are values that are reinforced by this universe.  
The Holonic  The Inspired polity,  

This is built on the principle of creativeness. This is more bricoleur centric – of being creative with the given resources.     Boltanski speaks of the seventh – which he refers to as the New Spirit of Capitalism which is the subject of my next blog.  
The Universe of Duality and Simultaneity  

Ashok offers a more fluidic lens to this part of the being that integrates and co-holds the inherent dynamism and conflict of the other universes, while remaining centered to the here and now of being.

I do not wish to burden you with more insights on the underlying axioms that mirror Boltanski and Malhotra’s work including epistemological immanentism and ontological non-determinism and would just like to conclude this section by pointing to a certain resonance between inner worlds and socio-political stances.

Part 2

Taking A Stance

I had begun this blog with the question of taking a political stance and staking a commitment – and how difficult it is for anyone of us do so, if we are located within the polity or deeply resonating with just one or two universes.

Capitalism sits on the polity of the Market and that of Fame – offering these to select elites that have survived the polity of Industrialism. Polities of Market and Fame do not allow for a meaningful stance against how select firms seem to be ruling us, our minds, our choices, and our behaviors. Surveillance capitalism cannot be grappled unless one changes one’s polity.

For this to happen, Malhotra’s EUM framework is of immense resource – for it means working with parts of the Self and one’s projections on to systems that one is a part of on three key universes – the Universe of Strength and Desire (that today reinforces hypermasculinity within the context), the Universe of Roles and Boundaries (that fragments the self from the role) and the Universe of Purpose and Achievement (that reinforces an instrumentality where one obsesses over personal success over one’s relatedness to society). Taking a stance implies exploring how these universes are resonating within self – and this gets captured by EUM-I and what one projects onto the world of systems – this gets captured by EUM-O.

Both Boltanski and Malhotra bring in new lens of looking at self, at systems, and socio-political stances, that allows for debates and preoccupations to morph into dialogue and new discoveries.

Organization theory and organization design thus needs to be examined from multiple lens as opposed to the mere positivist school alone that looks at parsimonious causality. This means investing and triangulating multiple philosophies and engaging with the messiness of pluralistic meanings that are co-held in any system.

Conclusion

Devi speaks of her work on Solidarity and how it resonates with the Civic polity and driven by the Universe of Meaningfulness and Intimacy – solidarity is a much-needed antidote to the nature of alienation that each of us grapples with. While she speaks of how the subaltern are able to deploy solidarity with each other, with others systems, it is perhaps so because this class is not overwhelmed with success, fame or efficacy.

Can civic polity be co-held along with other Polities within modern capitalistic society in India? Will Indian society see a similar trend where firms such as Reliance emulate the likes of Amazon, and end up monopolizing resources within the society? Will we go the USA way where analysts and strategists find legitimacy in loopholes in our policies and blame others for not manipulating these? Given the Farmers bills recently passed in the parliament, are we dismantling traditional polities and ending up endorsing the Market polity alone – to the detriment of all stakeholders?

I guess these questions would keep many of us awake in the coming months and years.

Co-holding Boltanski and Malhotra’s constructs allows for a creative play between one’s sense of being and one’s political convictions for me. As opposed to merely prescribing or judging oneself or the other, the two constructs allow for new meanings to appear. In the past two decades, we have used the EUM framework for many denizens of the market polity only to trigger new meanings through alternate lens.

Experience with EUM has triggered ‘Hope’ – the process of introducing such lens in addition to the all overwhelming paradigm of market capitalism and it is this hope that leaves me sanguine…

Notes

  • Marc Jacquemain on BOLTANSKI: A SOCIOLOGY OF ACTION REGIMES, POLITIES, WORLDS AND GRAMMAR
  • Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy – www.itep.org for data quoted in the introduction
  • For more information on the EUM framework or Ashok Malhotra – please visit www.eumlens.in or write to me.

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