[OPE-L:1415] Re: Pythagorean number-worship

riccardo bellofior (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Sun, 10 Mar 1996 23:34:30 -0800

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At 8:22 10-03-1996 -0800, glevy@acnet.pratt.edu wrote:

>Riccardo: PLEASE stop apologizing for your posts. Your perspectives and
>English are perfectly understandable.

Thus I do not apologize for pursuing this exchange which may be a bit
personal and relaxed. Nor I do apologize for asking those who are
interested by my statements, but finds them too much sketchy, to look for
more reasoned thoughts on method in these two papers of mine:

"Poverty of Rhetorics: Keynes vs McCloskey", in A. Marzola & F. Silva: John
Maynard Keynes. Language and Method

"History of Economic Thought as a Problem", in History of Economic Ideas,
1994, n. 2

>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 ...."

Well, it sounds good enough. The problem is that the split between
political economy and vulgar economy has produced disasters in Marxism. I
do not say we should not use it in the future. I say that *now* it is an
hindrance to our need to catch up with the *enemies*. Each of our
statements must hold up without any reference to the vulgar/political
economy dichotomy: that dichotomy may at best be a consequence of our
analysis (it was not so for Marx?).

>speaking, I divide contemporary economists into two major groups:
>marginalists and "others".
>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."

My uneasiness comes from the fact that I learnt more from Sraffa than from
the 93% among Marxists, more from Stiglitz than from Sraffa, more from
Hicks than from Stiglitz, more from Wicksell than from Hicks, more from
Schumpeter than from Wicksell, etc. It is not easy to say that all these
are on your 'others' camp.

Let me show you an example of 'good' way of fighting theoretical battles.
Look at how Schumpeter treats Walras's theory of money in the History of
Economic Analysis. It is full of praise, it seems that Walras is the
highest point in monetary theory. Then looks at the italics and the
footnotes: Walras now apperas as the highest point in traditional monetary
theory, better than Keynes, but unable to grasp the phenomenon of money in
capitalist development. That does not mean that Walras is too simply
rejected: the 'circular flow' becomes a *part* of Schumpeter's theoretical
project, which is produce by his innovation-driven development. Well, may
be it was not a criticism of Walras, but sounds not far from a notion of
*critique* a' la Marx,which compells to include the strengths of the
opponents' theory in one own's positive theoretical endeavours.

>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".

Jerry, I was referring to the issue of *justification*, which is only a
part of the knowledge enterprise. Justification is only discursive, and
tells us in what (limited) sense a proposition is 'true' in the sense of
respecting the grammar and syntax of a given theoretical language.
Knowledge is also extradiscursive: it is knowledge *of* something. There
must be a reference to reality, but that is proper to science as action:
how we produce and handle data, how we intervene on our 'object'. I believe
that for Marxians action is, in the last instance, the capacity to change
reality, rather than 'mirroring' an outside independent reality. And I
doubt you can talk with an apologist of capitalism while you are trying to
destroy it. (BTW: on the contrary, I'm not sure it is not possible to find
some points of agreement between a 'reformist' and a 'revolutionary'
approach to class struggle, as - if I understood well - Massimo was saying
some days ago. For example, I think that from Marx we know that it *is*
possible to have, under certain conditions, higher real wages and/or
shorter working time together with a rise in the rate of exploitation. Here
we have that workers may enjoy an improved position as regards the sphera
of use values, a reformist conclusione, and 'lose' on the value ground, a
'revolutionary' conclusion)

BTW: don't you think that Walras and Wicksell were, in their own way,
socialists? And that there is some truth in the Austrians charge that
general equilibrium theory is the theory of a planned economy? It is not a
chance that, as Alan reminded us, there are points of contact between
Walras and Sraffa and the 20th century marxists: the crossroads is in the
German-Russian debate of the late 19th century, early 20th century on

>> 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?

Well, I was talking of price theory. Ricardo's labour embodied, more
precisely the difficulty of production, was ambigouous: it opens the way to
Marx absolute value, but also to the mere technological view on price
determination of Sraffa. Thus, I would say: Ricardo is contradictory,
Sraffa is coherent, and may claim a continuity with a *side* of Ricardo
(just as Marx may claim a continuity with the *other* side of Ricardo).
There is no true money in Sraffa's 1960 book; but also Ricardo's money was
among what I would call the vulgar side in monetary theory (vulgar: oops!).


Riccardo Bellofiore e-mail: bellofio@cisi.unito.it
Department of Economics Tel: (39) -35- 277505 (direct)
University of Bergamo (39) -35- 277501 (dept.)
Piazza Rosate, 2 (39) -11- 5819619 (home)
I-24129 Bergamo Fax: (39) -35- 249975