[OPE-L:2746] RE: Patrick on Becker and his critics

glevy@pratt.ed (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 29 Jul 1996 08:27:53 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew wrote in [OPE-L:2740]:

> Becker recognized that this
> would enable neoclassicism to explain everything and therefore explain
> nothing, and he unflinchingly chose to pursue the opposite path of pure
> economic determinism by refusing to acknowledge changes in preferences,
> thereby making agent's behaviors determined solely by exogenous factors (with
> no *self*-determination).

I think that the standard Left "critique" of Becker seems to boil down to
two propositions (both true): his work represents an extreme form of
economic determinism and it is transparently reactionary. What I gather
Patrick and Andrew are saying in part is that this is not sufficient. I
agree with them. Perhaps part of the problem is that we have to (re)learn
what the meaning of critique is. We have to learn, as Andrew says, to take
ideas seriously *even when* those ideas represent a reactionary

I think we have had a few other discussions on OPE-L where the issue of
how we critique "standard" economic theory has come up, most notably, in
an exchange we had a few months back regarding "bourgeois economics" (in
which Riccardo made some relevant comments).

What might not be appreciated sufficiently is the way in which a critical
evaluation of ideas can lead to the development of alternative
conceptions. That is, I think Marxists frequently see the task of critique
only negatively as demolishing other perspectives rather than surpassing
those perspectives with more coherent explanations via the process of
engaging other perspectives seriously. A related problem might be that many
Marxists historically have substituted polemics and rhetoric for
critique. It's a lazy practice, IMO, which we need to move beyond.

It has been very easy for the Left to simply dismiss Becker's work, but,
in so doing, we (as Patrick suggests) have failed to develop coherent
theoretical explanations for a number of important issues of particular
importance to working people, e.g. education, crime, the family,
discrimination, etc., etc..

Maybe something that helps is when we keep each other on our toes by
challenging ourselves and others to be less assertive. In a number of
instances that I can remember listmembers have challenged me in this
manner and I think I have benefited from that experience.

In OPE-L Solidarity,