Colin Gordon, A Note On “Becker On Ewald On Foucault On Becker” (2013)

Colin Gordon, A Note On “Becker On Ewald On Foucault On Becker” (2013).

Key quotes below

Foucault does not in fact say this [Gordon is referring to insinuation that Gary Becker’s work on investment in human capital advocates racial discrimination], on these pages or elsewhere. The point actually attributed by Foucault to neoliberals – one to which, it is worth emphasising, Foucault seems willing to accord genuine analytic merit – is that global locations and times of strong economic growth are associated with strong preceding investments in human capital: this is the meaning of the sentence Bernard Harcourt goes on to quote:

Only a fine analysis of the composition of the human capital, of the way this human capital has been augmented, of the sectors in which it has been augmented, and of the elements which have been introduced as investment


in this human capital, can account for the real growth of these countries. (232)

The claim being discussed here is that there is an association between economic growth and investment in human capital – not the claim that only some human capital is worth investing in. There may well be, in the neoliberal economic literature, discussions of which locations or forms of investment in human capital are more or less effective in generating economic growth – but Foucault does not discuss or mention any here; nor, for that matter, does Bernard Harcourt. Harcourt’s hypothesis of a neoliberal economic rationale for the mass incarceration of the black urban underclass in the USA seems still to be in want of a satisfactory evidential basis, or at least of a basis in these lectures. 


If we want to think our own thoughts which go beyond the remarks in these lectures, we are – of course – free to do so. It would the most perverse of homages to Foucault’s work to deny either its limits or its unfinished status, or to deny to ourselves or others the aspiration to continue his project. We are at liberty to imagine, and indeed (given the talent) write the books we would like Foucault to have written, or which he should or would have written. But it is perhaps better that we take our own responsibility for any new items we bring to the party. 

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