Re: [OPE] Mistaking Mathematical Beauty for Economic Truth

From: Ian Wright <>
Date: Fri Sep 11 2009 - 12:43:30 EDT

I think the focus on "mathematics" is a red-herring, however. The
focus should be on bad ideas, not the form those ideas take.
Mathematics is a language with lots of dialects. And just like any
language you can talk a lot of nonsense in it, and there's always a
gap between the concepts and the reality you are talking about.

The problem with neoclassical macroeconomics is not the use of
mathematics in itself, but the concepts and ideas. For example, the
assumption of market clearing is utterly destructive of a proper
understanding of capitalist reality. But this assumption has got
nothing to do with mathematics per se.

Marx wrote somewhere that he thought mathematics held the promise of
"determining the main laws of capitalist crisis". He devoted himself
to a close study of the calculus. Formal modeling is potentially a
powerful tool for real understanding, and one of the weaknesses of
Marxist economics is, in my view, a lack of mathematics.

Having said that, I can understand the wariness toward mathematics in
Marxist economics, since some of the more math-heavy contributions,
e.g. from the "analytical Marxists" or the neo-Ricardians, seem to do
nothing but deny commonplace Marxist assertions, e.g. that workers are
exploited in the workplace and that exploitation can be measured in
terms of labor-time.

On Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 6:55 AM, GERALD LEVY <> wrote:
> It seems to me, though, that many radical economists also fell
> (and continue to fall) in love with mathematical beauty and mistook
> (and mistake) it for political-economic truth. The models, assumptions,
> and math vary but it's also true that most radical economists weren't
> able to see the _specific_ nature of this crisis coming and
> were married to very general and stylized models of the economy.
> In solidarity, Jerry
ope mailing list
Received on Fri Sep 11 12:45:14 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Wed Sep 30 2009 - 00:00:02 EDT