[OPE-L:782] A Digression

John R. Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Fri, 12 Jan 1996 17:32:09 -0800

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I enjoyed the posts by Alan and Duncan. With
respect to Duncan's observations concerning
the ability of standard economists to work
collectively and the apparent inability of
Marxists to do so, here are a few thoughts.


1. Within the realm of standard economics, one
can work within a paradigm. That is, there is
more substantial agreement within the field
than that found within Marxist economics.

2. In the U.S., as economists, trained in the 60's,
adopted a Marxist perspective, they often did
so prior to reading much of Marx's work. Indeed,
often when one would ask where they found this
or that in Marx, you would hear that they didn't
know or they were sure it was there as Joan
Robinson or some other known leftist told them
it was. Marx was generally treated as someone
to quote and not to study. Here I speak of many
of those actually teaching Marx in 70's.

3. When study did take place, secondary sources
provided a quick fix for the lack of scholarship.
Sadly, the secondary sources chosen were often
those deemed acceptable within the profession
itself. Thus, mainstream economists dictated
what was to be read. Fundamental issues were,
more often than not, assumed settled. In general,
this view led to the commonly held belief that Marx,
while having interesting insights for his time,
was wrong, dated, or both.

4. My sense is that this has changed. More than
a few have read much of Marx's work. The settled
issues of the past no longer seem so. People who
have actually read Marx are now interpreting him
and challenging much of the previously accepted.
The efforts of yesteryear now appear to be stuck
with indefensible interpretations developed in
the early part of the century.

5. Perhaps, the sound and fury will, this time,
signify something. That is, we may be able to
explain economic phenomena better than most as
well as to construct hypothesis that can be
tested, given the data. To be sure, we still
need to establish what the standard students of
economic life have -- a paradigm. This often
means arguing over fundamentals. It also may
mean simply ignoring the standard interpretation of
Marx -- a Marx stuck in the transformation problem,
with an Okishio theorem, and burdened with a
concept of valuation that is simply silly -- and
developing his "economic law of motion" so
that it can be presented in an intelligible
fashion. In other words, why keep arguing
with those to whom no one listens? Establishing
a paradigm can be painful and some folk are
not going to hop on the train.