[OPE-L:6249] Teaching micro

David Laibman (DLaibman@brooklyn.cuny.edu)
Fri, 06 Mar 98 12:43:00 EST

Dear OPE,
I haven't got a website like Michael W., and I teach micro only at the
introductory level. But I can offer a few quick thoughts on Jerry's
I think Marxists in economics depts. have a responsibility to teach
standard theory. Students in our sections will need the analytical
techniques, and should not be placed at a disadvantage in the electives by
having not learned the core models (you all know what this is: indifference
curves, revenue, product and cost curves, etc.) and quantitative methods. In
fact, to avoid the trap of charges of incompetence, etc., Marxists should be
especially sharp in presenting and teaching these materials.
Within that, there is plenty of room for immanent critique. For
example, I like to first present some standard "free market" results, and
then use indifference curves to show that, for example, with a realistic
change of assumption, rationing may well benefit the poor while hurting the
wealthy. I point to the ideological nature of the rising long-run average
cost curve, and the clear implications (destructive of perfect competition)
of this not happening. The concept of normal profit (or implicit fixed cost,
or opportunity cost) is a monumental fudge, and renders the entire theory of
long-period equilibrium price indeterminate. And so on.
Now *of course* this does not get to the heart of the matter. I also
teach (occasionally) a course in Marxist economic theory, and point students
who are interested in going farther in that direction. Those of us who do
not have the opportunity to teach Marx in other courses may want to introduce
a "unit" on Marx in the micro (or macro) course. This is exasperating, of
course: Marxist theory is not a "unit"; it is an integral framework. But I
would advise against substituting our paradigm for the conventional one in
these courses, and not only for tactical reasons. Mainstream theory is
elaborated to address problems at some levels of reality; otherwise, it would
not be able to play its ideological and reproductive roles. I do not
for a minute assume that some sort of "division of labor" is possible, in
which neoclassical economics supplies the "right" answers to certain
questions while Marxist economics supplies the "right" answers to others, and
the two can be neatly grafted together. However, we do not have a well
worked out view of, for example, short-run price dynamics, within a Marxist
framework that is distinct from the conventional one. A temporary
integration subject to critical interrogation later -- something like the
academic counterpart of Wilfred Burchett's portrayal of the strategy of the
NLF in South Vietnam, "living integrated with the enemy" -- seems the best
way to go. And I think it is true to say that bourgeois economics *does*
work, within its inherently limited framework; if it didn't it wouldn't be
able to produce policy and ideology for the capitalist class at all (as noted

best to all,


David Laibman