In 7318 Alejandro Valle Baeza wrote >Gerry this information is quite interesting. Do you know some >discussion about economic interest related to academic interest? I >read, some years ago, an interesting paper from J. Petras about >politics and Latin-American intellectuals. In such paper Petras >argued that personal economic interest are close related to changes >in focus by LA intellectual (And elsewhere I presume). In Mexico, >by example, during 70's it was compatible to obtain academic >prestige and grants with Marxian ascription. This changed >drastically during 80's and 90's and most of Marxian Mexican >economist rejected the first M; hence they are now Mexican economist. If one does not drop an M, then one may end up trying to become a Marxist Hayekian Mexican (or Indian)? rb Marx in the marketplace (Filed: 21/04/2002) Michael Prowse reviews Marx's Revenge by Meghnad Desai. SOME books are more than the sum of their parts; others are less. Unhappily, Marx's Revenge, falls into the latter category. Many of the chapters are entertaining and instructive. Meghnad Desai, the Labour peer and LSE economist, is good at explaining complex ideas, and many readers will learn much from his analysis of two centuries of economic history. But the coherence of the book's central argument is more doubtful. The root problem is one that afflicts many nominally Left-wing intellectuals. Late in their careers they have come to appreciate the strength of the case for markets. Yet they also want to remain loyal to the ideals of their youth. In Desai's case, the problem is extreme: he once admired Marx sufficiently to devote years to the writing of textbooks on Marxian economics. He is now trying to show that one can revere both Marx and some of his sternest critics, such as Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian economist. The task is, let us say, challenging. When Desai refers to Marx's "revenge", he has two different ideas in mind, neither of which will perturb investment bankers. He argues, first, that Marx has already had his revenge with respect to the likes of Lenin and Mao. They deserved to fail, he argues, because they ignored the master's warning that one type of social organisation can succeed another only when the former has exhausted its capacity for development. Capitalism had not exhausted its potential when the Bolsheviks seized power, and their project was thus always doomed. Although Marx didn't live to witness the atrocities committed in his name, he lived long enough to worry about the rationality of his more ardent followers. "Tout que je sais, je ne suis pas marxiste" he once wrote. But Desai hints that there is a second sense in which Marx may yet get his revenge. Many people imagine that markets and democracy represent a final destination, the highest imaginable development of social organisation. After the Berlin Wall collapsed, Francis Fukuyama expressed this insight pithily with his claim that "history had ended". But if Marx was right, capitalism, like feudalism, will go under once it has exhausted its potential. And the irony about recent efforts to deregulate economies is that they will hasten rather than retard this process. So long as capitalism was shackled - by high taxes, tariff barriers, capital controls and so forth - its development was stymied. The truest friends of socialism, Desai thus hints, are the conservative leaders who liberalised markets. They restarted the historical process that will lead, ineluctably, to a socialism that is genuine because spontaneous rather than imposed by revolutionary upstarts. The problem with this argument is that it is not rigorous. Marx could neither identify the process whereby capitalism would fail, nor even sketch how a post-capitalist society would function. There was thus little content in his claim that something (communism) would succeed capitalism, just as capitalism had apparently succeeded feudalism. Desai thus fails to produce the evidence that could justify his claim that Marx should still be regarded as a seminal thinker. Indeed if one reads Desai closely one will discover that his allegiance has anyway shifted. Like many centre-left thinkers, he has flipped from one extreme position to another. Having once had too little faith in markets, he now has too much faith in them. If you doubt this, read his hagiographic account of Hayek. The risk he thus runs is of encouraging an unnecessarily supine attitude to global capitalism. The world may need markets for the forseeable future, but the institutional framework within which markets are embedded can be more or less humane. Desai's book will do nothing to encourage a more humane capitalism. Michael Prowse is a columnist on The Financial Times.
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