Re: [OPE-L] Clifford D. Conner _A People's History of Science_

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sun Feb 04 2007 - 11:53:47 EST

In December I sent a message about this book
which said that the author is looking for feedback on the section
on Keynesianism in his text.  Since that time, I've had an
exchange with Cliff (reproduced below).

A short excerpt from Chapter 8 of _The People's History of Science_
is  *attached*.

* Do you have any comments on what he wrote on Keynesianism in the
* Do you agree or disagree with my short comments?
* Would any of you care to reply to his additional questions below?

I'll forward replies to Cliff.

In solidarity, Jerry

----- Original Message -----
From: Cliff Conner
To: Jerry Levy
Sent: Sunday, February 04, 2007 10:15 AM
Subject: Re: Continuation of "Excerpt"

Dear Jerry,

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. It's a great relief to know
that I didn't make a total ass of myself, and your numbered comments have
given me a lot to think about. I'd like to study economics more
systematically, but whether I actually will is another thing. (There are
lots of things I'd like to study more systematically, like French, but the
sands of time are rapidly running out . . . )  Maybe you could suggest
some good books as a starting point. I saw one advertised recently:
"Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology" by
Michael Perelman. Are you familiar with that one?

Some reflections on your comments:

On point no. 1, is "underconsumption" an exact synonym for "crisis of
overproduction"? I confess that I thought it was generally agreed among
Marxists that the GD was a result of a crisis of overproduction. But then
again, my knowledge of Marxist economics comes from a relatively narrow
base of sources.

On point no. 2, I was careful not to say that "Keynes said" it would not
suffice to merely 'prime the pump' etc.  But I should have made it
clearer.  The sentence seems to imply that it came from Keynes, but I
meant for the point ("Government deficit spending was destined to become a
*permanent* condition . . . ) to stand or fall on the empirical record
rather than on Keynes's authority, and I assume that would be
noncontroversial except to people who take Eisenhower and Reagan's phony
claims to have "balanced the budget" for good coin.

On point no. 4, I see how that could be confusing, because Reagan's
economic ideologues would probably equate "Keynsianism" with the devil.
But can a case be made for distinguishing between what they said and wrote
and what they actually did in policy terms? The continuity I meant to
suggest was the continuity of ever-increasing deficit spending, whether
that be attributed to Keynes's influence or not.

As to subjecting the excerpt to the critique of OPE-L, your comments have
eased my mind to the point where I can say: sure, why not? And I would
appreciate it if you would add your comments into the package.

Thanks again, Jerry.


On Feb 3, 2007, at 7:34 PM, Jerry Levy wrote:

  Hi Cliff:

  Sorry to take so long getting back to you: I've been pretty
  busy with other stuff.

  Re the section on Keynes:

  It's certainly not an "embarrassment" but I think that the section
  would have been written differently by an economist.

  Some basic points:

  1) The claim that "The Great Depression of the 1930s revealed
  that the capitalist system, left to its own devices has become so
  productive that it is no longer capable of generating enough
  purchasing power to absorb all of the products which with which it
  continuously floods the market"  is very debatable.  Whether
  the GD was caused by underconsumption is a topic that Marxians
  do not agree on. Ditto the claim about the reason(s) for the Marshall

  2) Deficit spending was intended by Keynes for a contractionary
  period.  The idea then was that as the economy recovered and
  opened up an expansionary gap (where there was excessive
  aggregate pending and inflation) then the government would cease
  deficit spending.  Indeed, the proposed fiscal policies then called
  for, from a Keynesian perspective,  tax increases and/or decreases
  in government spending.

  3) The "in the long-run we are all dead" comment has a different
  context than you suggested, I believe. I don't recall off-hand but can
  find out more if you like.  He didn't use it, as note #3 suggests, as an
  "all-purpose response".

  4) The text makes it sound as if Reagan's economic policies were
  a continuation of Keynesian ones.  That was not the case.

  If you'd like I'd still be happy to forward the excerpt to OPE-L.  More
  than likely, others would make further comments (and, if I included
  my own, some would probably disagree with me).

  Comradely, Jerry

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