[OPE-L:5848] Re: Microeconomics

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Sun Jun 10 2001 - 08:14:11 EDT

Re Steve's [5847]:

I think there are some interesting and important issues here for =

1. Traditionally, in terms of the history of Marxian economic thought, =
have rejected the distinction between 'microeconomics' and =
as an element of  neoclassical (and bourgeois) economic thought.  More
specifically, I think that this (artificial) division reflects =
fundamentally different
methodologies in terms of comprehending capitalism (and social thought). =
'internal'  artificial division in economics is paralleled by an =
'external'  division in which
'political economy' has been transformed into 'economics' and in which =
is one of many 'social sciences'.

2. Nonetheless, many of the issues discussed in microeconomics are of =
interest to
Marxians.  More specifically, Marxians have (I believe) two =
inter-related goals in
this area: a) a critique of 'orthodox' microeconomic perspectives; AND =
b) the
presentation of the issues themselves from a Marxian perspective.  I =
will consider
some implications of this in the rest of this post.

3. One direction that Marxians have taken, the predominant one I =
believe, has been
to critique orthodox microeconomics and then (perhaps) make some =
remarks about alternative conceptions.  IF this is one's goal, then I =
agree that it
is more appropriate to begin the presentation of the critique with =
rather than production.  There are a great many merits to what you call =
'demolition derby'  approach.  At a minimum, if the critique is =
devastating and
thorough enough, then it 'clears the way' for alternative anti-orthodox, =
Marxian, perspectives.  [btw, the best introductory text to micro that =
I've seen
that follows this understanding of critique is Frank J.B. Stilwell's =
(long out-of-print)
_Normative Economics: An introduction to microeconomic theory and =
critiques_, Pergamon Press (Australia), 1975].

4. If one seeks to undertake the task though of conceptualizing =
concerns within a presentation of the subject matter of capitalism, then =
think that the 'critique ordering' should be selected (or, if it is, one =
should at
least give some consideration to the methodological implications of =
in that manner).  Those Marxian texts that have incorporated a =
component have generally selected a DIFFERENT ordering -- beginning more =
issues related to class and production than to consumption.

5. There is another major issue as well for Marxians: what is the =
'place', in terms
of the logical ordering of the subject matter, for 'microeconomic' =
This, it seems, is related -- from a history of thought perspective -- =
to different
readings by Marxians of Volume 1 of _Capital_ and its relation to the =
rest of
_Capital_ and the rest of Marx's theory.  E.g. one perspective seems to =
be that
Volume 1 is basically about microeconomics whereas the rest of _Capital_
is about macroeconomics (this reading might be based in  part on a [mis] =
reading of
the significance of the sub-title for Volume 3 and its relation to =
This presentational focus on beginning with microeconomics and then =
going to
macroeconomics is embodied within a couple of radical economic texts:
i) Francis Green and Bob Sutcliffe _The Profit System: The Economics of
Capitalism_, penguin, 1987, out-of-print [a surplus approach =
perspective]; and
ii) Samuel Bowles and Richard Edwards _Understanding Capitalism: =
Command, and Change in the U.S. Economy_, 2nd, ed., HarperCollins, 1993, =

out-of-print [a social structure of accumulation perspective].  An =
perspective might be that what constitute 'microeconomic concerns' are =
understood in terms of a level of concretion that _follows_ that of =
Nonetheless, I think that advocates of the latter interpretation would =
at least
grant the claim that there are parts of _Capital_ that have significance =
interpreting more concrete microeconomic questions.  The issue, though,
isn't one of whether there are 'tidbits' in _Capital_ that have =
importance for
interpreting these issues. The issue is rather: what is the place for =
the issues
that have come to be associated with microeconomics in a logical =
-- by level of abstraction, if you will allow me the use of that =

6. Orthodox theory, as well, has (many) problems re microeconomics. One
(related to the above) problem is how they combine the GET and =
curve analysis, etc. part of their theory (which rests very heavily on =
marginalist principles) with more concrete microeconomic issues such as
those related to 'industrial organization' (IO). Thus, within the field =
of IO
there are orthodox writers who present a very marginalist welfare =
perspective and there are those who present what I will call a 'neo-
institutionalist' perspective that has little basis in marginalist =
theory. Thus,
as the level of concretion of the subject matter is increased, some of =
orthodox economists seem -- at least to me -- to free themselves of some
of the shackles of their 'basic theory' and concentrate on comprehending
social, historical and institutional processes.  It seems, though, that =
haven't really given consideration to the methodological implications of
proceeding in that manner and the implications re relevance of the basic
marginalist perspectives.

In solidarity, Jerry

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