[OPE-L:1401] Re: Pythagorean number-worship

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Sun, 10 Mar 1996 08:22:26 -0800

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Riccardo wrote in [OPE:L:1400] (!):
> I was not saying that the internal critique is the only critique. I was
> suggesting that one should take seriously the *other* theories' aims and
> categories (as, BTW, we want the other to respect our theory) when making
> that strange game which is 'scientific practice'.
We should take seriously all schools of political economy and economics,
regardless of their aims and categories since those schools have an
effect on how social reality is understood and changed. This does *not* mean
that we should "respect" *all* other theories or that *all* of those
other schools are engaged in "scientific practice." If the object of
study is to investigate "whether this theorem or that is true" from the
standpoint of "genuine scientific research", we should relate to those
economists differently from those who approach theorems from the
standpoint of "hired prize-fighters [with] ... the bad conscience and
evil intent of apologetic" who view theorems from the perspective of
whether they are "useful to capital or not, expedient or inexpedient,
politically dangerous or not ...."
> Otherwise, the risk is
> that you say that another theory is inappropriate for analyzing a dynamic
> capitalist economy (in *your* sense), when the other theory simply do not
> interpret those words in the same manner. My strategy is neither to bother
> for internal critiques of other theories nor to fill my paper of harsh
> phrases against Neoricardians, or Walrasians, etc. I rather try to make an
> openly personal 'translation' among different approaches, when it is
> needed, trying to clear the different domains - and I am more eager to
> recognize the coherence than the incoherence to my theoretical 'enemies'.
Riccardo: you are clearly a fair and non-dogmatic theorist (an admirable
attribute often in short supply among Marxists). I also recognize that
your "strategy" has its merits -- not the least of which is to tone down the
rhetoric. However, I approach the question somewhat differently. Broadly
speaking, I divide contemporary economists into two major groups:
marginalists and "others".

Marginalism (of all stripes and creeds, e.g. general equilibrium theory,
monetarism, supply-side theory), the dominant "paradigm" in our
profession, is an ideology which presents economics as a "science" with
natural laws and abstracts from history and social forces. It is, at its
core, apologetic and class-biased (and, I believe this can be
demonstrated if we examine the writings of the early marginalists and
their social context). It is also an intellectual perspective which has
confronted the working-class movement and Marxism *as enemies*. Even at
their best, marginalists view Marxists as "eccentrics" who are engaged in
normative concerns rather than scientific investigation. So, *they* treat
representatives of other schools of thought in either a dismissive way
or as enemies. What does this mean in terms of how we relate to them?
Does it mean we should call them "bourgeois apologists" at every
opportunity? I think not. Does it mean that we should refuse to read
their writings? No. I believe that we could all agree that, even in its
most mystified form, there are aspects of "mainstream" theory that we can
learn from. Does it mean that we cease social contact with the
neo-neoclassicals? Certainly not. Indeed, some of my best friends are
bourgeois economists. (smile). When, then, *do* we confront them as
enemies? When they confront the working class (e.g. organized labor)
and/or "heterodox" economists as enemies, then we should reciprocate.
When, for instance, they argue that trade unions are monopolies, that
minimum wage legislation and rent controls should be opposed for
"scientific" reasons, or that global inequality is justified and natural,
we should confront them as enemies. Am I being too harsh? I don't think
so. I personally believe that the "harsh tone" established in the
"Cambridge Controversies" by Joan Robinson and others was entirely
justified (and quite entertaining!). Sadly, it seems as though many
Post-Keynesians are now more respectful of marginalists (e.g. on PKT Paul
Davidson criticized Robinson for her inflammatory style and for failing to
recognize the merits of neo-neoclassical thought). I see this as a
retreat and an accommodation to mainstream theory.

This, of course, does not mean that we should treat *individuals* who are
neo-neoclassicals necessarily as enemies. Ed Nell, for instance, once
told me that Oscar Morgenstern once paid a courtesy call on Joan Robinson
while visiting Cambridge. Joan, according to Ed, told him to get the hell
away as she had nothing to say to the likes of him. That's not my style
at all. If a well-known marginalist were to pay a courtesy call on me at
Pratt (fat chance!), I would welcome that person into my (miserable)
office and probably introduce that person to other faculty and buy him or
her a cup of coffee. (Of course, if it was Milton Friedman my reaction
would probably be different!). So, I am in favor of treating *everyone*
with respect -- unless they demonstrate to me that they are unworthy of
respect. This does not mean, though, that we must treat their theoretical
perspectives with respect.

How, then, do we relate intellectually to the "others"? I include in this
category neo-institutionalists, surplus theorists (aka Neo-Ricardians),
classical economists, Post-Keynesians, Post-Marxists, and *all* those who
consider themselves to be Marxists. Despite fundamental differences, I
believe that these schools of thought have the object of "genuine
scientific research." That is, their "project" is to understand
capitalism rather than apologize for existing capitalist relationships.
With that in mind, I treat them in a *fundamentally* different way from
the neo-neoclassicals. Even if I believe that some others in this
category are "confused" or "mistaken", I do not view them as enemies nor
do I claim to have a monopoly on "the truth."
> And from a methodological point of view I do not believe any reference to
> 'reality' is relevant in 'scientific' discussions. The confrontation with
> other theories seems to me relevant in helping to understand what is
> distinctive in one's own approach, in eliminating inconsistencies, etc.:
> that is, in a process of self-criticism which is essential in furthering
> one own way of representing and intervening in the 'world' (the one here
> may be, of course, a collective).
Of course, we *do* understand reality differently. However, if we are to
re-claim the political, social, and historical component of economics
then we MUST refer to reality -- *even though* we understand reality
differently. *Of course*, we need self-criticism. However, we also need
to critique from the outside all other schools of thought that we don't
identify with. This is, after all, part of our own individual process of
understanding and "becoming".
> However, I think that Marx criticized Ricardo (and
> Smith) because of their inability to resolve the problems internal to their
> approach(es), and showed how his (Marx's) methodological different grouds
> were able to overcome those difficulties *breaking* with Classical
> political economy.
True enough, but I would not hold all contemporary schools of thought
with the same regard as Marx held Smith and Ricardo.
> Now we know that the Ricardian problems in price theory
> can be resolved in its own terms (though I do not think that this too
> simple account is completely fair to the ambiguites in Ricardo: but
> certainly Sraffa is a legitimate way, though not the only one, to read
> Ricardo).
Do you think so? I'm not convinced. The "surplus approach" hasn't, for
instance, resolved the "Ricardian problems" of money, don't you think?
> Thoughts put down early in the morning. I fear that all of you may easilu
> see that I am not completely awake ...
Riccardo: PLEASE stop apologizing for your posts. Your perspectives and
English are perfectly understandable.

IN OPE-L Solidarity,