[OPE-L:781] Re: Digression: two qestions and a proposal

Duncan K Foley (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Fri, 12 Jan 1996 11:25:44 -0800

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Some thoughts on Alan's musings:

1. One thing I learned from Gramsci is how interconnected the different
moments and levels of power structures in society are. To maintain a
viable capitalist society there have to be, not just capitalists and
workers, but a whole range of other institutions: engineering, education,
sport, journalism, research, and so forth, which function (more or less
well) to hold the whole thing together.

Economics research, even of a very abstract kind, seems to me to be a
site of class struggle. The task of the critical or Marxist researcher is
presumably to maintain and extend an understanding of the social world
that acknowledges class differences, exploitation, the reproduction of
capital, and so on. Like the structure of mainstream (or bourgeois)
economics, this has to be done at a whole range of levels, from applied
empirical work to abstract theory, from textbook writing to journal
articles. This could obviously be done better, though it is remarkable
how much of this task of maintaining a kind of shadow economics we manage
to accomplish with extremely thin resources.

Curiously enough, for all their rhetoric of individualism and
competition, the mainstream economists are very good at collective work.
They tend to focus their contributions around making small but useful
additions to what they regard as a fundamentally sound structure. As a
result they have a sense of cumulation in their work; they also find it
easy to cooperate and collaborate in a variety of projects, including
writing articles. Marxist and other critical economists, equally
curiously, tend not to be very good at collective work in this sense. For
one thing, we have a tendency to want to go back to foundational issues
all the time, so that very little empirical work, for example, can get
done without a reconstruction of a whole theoretical framework. There are
some notable exceptions, but there isn't as much cumulation and building
on other's work, as I see it, anyway. I associate this problem with the
counter-dependent personalities that have the strength to maintain a
critical stance in an extremely conforming society, but there are
probably other issues as well here.

I'm not sure I have a good idea of why the real wage tends to rise with
productivity (on average and over long periods) although many of the
ideas put forward here seemed to me to be good ones worth thinking
through and evaluating. At this point this question is still in the
embryonic stage of thinking for me.

Happy New Year to everybody.