[OPE-L:6435] Re: How taking a class in Marx and/or Marxian economics is valuable for business students

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Wed Jan 23 2002 - 15:36:21 EST

Re Paul Z's [6430],  Michael P's [6434] and Gary's [6433]:

A.  Response to Paul Z:
Yes, there is another way to read what I wrote.  You do have students who
are taking your class on Marxian economics who aren't business students,
don't you?  Some might even be radicals already, right?  Some might be
supporters of trade unionism rather than being pro-management, right?
My point only concerned what effect taking a class on Marx or Marxian
economics might have on business students once they become managers
and can then put what they learned into practice.

Now, an interesting question concerns the class composition of business
students at many colleges in the US.  I don't have statistics, but it's the
case that enrollment in business programs has increased over the long-term
(at least since the late 1970's) and that many of these students (especially
those enrolled in public universities and community colleges) are from
working-class families and have very mixed and often confused attitudes
and illusions about business ... that perhaps can be changed.  So, for
some of them taking a class in Marxian economics *might* be a kind of
wake-up call.  It's also the case, of course, that students oftentimes do
not go into the professions that they initially believe that they will when
they enter college (e.g. they can switch departments and majors).

B. Response to Michael P:
Well, of course, readers from different time periods and countries will draw
different lessons from reading Marx.  You don't really believe that your
business students will read Marx as if they were nobles or the middle class
in pre-revolutionary Russia, I presume.  The question I would put to you
is: what did your student mean by his comment about the value of taking your
class? Did you ask?

C. Response to Gary:
> Hang on a sec.

OK, I'm listening.

> First of all, one needn't take a course in Marxian economics to understand
> the potential benefits of screwing workers.  That's so pervasive an
> of the management-class Zeitgeist it doesn't have to be learnt from a
>  What is curious is that the management textbooks teach precisely the
> opposite of what is routine business practice: participatory approaches
> better than autocratic approaches, carrots are preferable to sticks.

You make my point for me.  Management textbooks, as you correctly point
out, don't make the argument that managers should screw workers.  And, as I
pointed out in my last post, these attitudes *generally are learned
rather than at school.  But, they _can_ learn that lesson about management's
function from reading Marx. This lesson won't be taught to them by their
business professors.  Herein lies an important point: by raising this
question one can get students to ask themselves *before it is too late*  "Is
what I really want to do with my life?".  I find it is also useful to
highlight how
even though some of the same subjects may be learned in both management and
economics classes, there is (or should be) a big difference between how
these two disciplines view those subjects. In other words, it is a way to
students to more critically examine the conceptions that they are taught in
both classes. This -- critical thinking -- is surely what progressive
faculty want out of their students.

> During
> the downsizing of the 1980s the newspapers were rife with stories about
> middle-managers showing up for work, being handed a  pink slip, and being
> told to clear out their desks and leave the premises within half an hour.
>  I thought at the time, Jesus, didn't any of these pricks pay attention to
> their MBA personnel management lecture on how to minimize the morale
> consequences of layoffs? Every one of my colleagues in the Management
> Department here at St John's would forcefully argue that that's exactly
> wrong way to handle dismissals.  Yet it's commonplace. That's a puzzle
> i think Marxian economics might be able to explain (official ideology
> obscures what's actually happening).

The changing of the locks on the door is often done as a pre-emptive strike
against *sabotage*.

While it might hurt the morale of the remaining members of lower management,
it is also a way to increase _their_ intensity of work and in trickle-down
fashion the intensity of work of the wage-workers.

> Some exposure to Marxian economics
> might also give the manager pause: why am I doing something that my
> training teaches me is unsound practice?

By the time that someone actually becomes a manager, it's usually too
late.  It is during the initial period after being hired that the real
lessons are learned. One might say that the initial period of work for
is like bootcamp in the U.S. Army: either they 'get with the program' or are
downsized.  Just about all hierarchical organizations in capitalist society
have a comparable training/indoctrination period for the elite.

> It might also sensitivize him to
> his own exploitation: I wonder how many managers feel compelled to do
> things they find morally repugnant because of an oppressive corporate
> culture.

A lot, I imagine  -- but a major part of their training is learning how to
obey orders from 'superiors' (higher mgt.) and  *especially* give orders
to 'subordinates' (those lower on the hierarchical totem pole -- of course,
including workers).

In solidarity, Jerry

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