[OPE-L:6252] Re: What do you teach in your micro and IO classes?

Mon, 09 Mar 1998 15:09:10 +0000 (GMT)

Gerry writes

> In asking these questions, I am reminded of a conversation that I had with
> Anu Shaikh a couple of years ago. He noted that in the classroom, Marxist
> economists often revert to teaching mainstream theory with a radical
> critique rather than attempting to systematically develop and explain a
> Marxist conception. I think that is indeed what frequently happens and I'd
> like to see a discussion about why that happens.
> Is it only the lack of suitable literature that can be distributed to
> students? Or is the problem more fundamental -- i.e. a lack of a
> well-developed Marxist conceptualization of these subjects?
> On another list I recall someone (perhaps former OPE-Ler, Jim Devine)
> saying that Marxist political economy was all about macroeconomics. Is
> that the case? If not, then how and where are other subjects developed?

The answer to the problem Gerry poses involves finding the correct
Marxian analogue to Neoclassical micro foundations. The emphasis
here should be on the foundations part not the micro part. As a
matter of fact the first couple of chapters of most micro texts deal
not with micro but with foundations. I develop the neoclassical
argument in the following sequence: definition of economics; basic
concepts; general model (ppf); capitalism; price as key concept (what
is produced, how, who gets what); price theory (demand, supply,
elasticity, blah, blah, blah). The Marxian argument can be
developed under exactly the same headings, except that the key
concept is profits and instead of price theory, I go on to present
the marxian theory of profits. Institutional economics can be also
developed under the same headings except that they deny the
possibility of general models and the key concept is instability and
extended discussion of the sources of instability is held over to
macroeconomics and the theory of unemployment.

Advantages of this approach,

It treats the micro course as a foundations, rather than a
specifically "micro", course.

Marxian and institutional approaches are given equal conceptual
weight right at the start of the study of economics.

Neoclassical micro is covered in preparation for subsequent classes,
but its predominance is conceptually eliminated and its dominance in
time (maybe half the course) is justified not by its truth or even
the dominant concensus, but by the elaborate nature of its price
theory, which tends to delegitimate rather than legitimate it.

It allows discussion of the question of contrasting paradigms in the
theory of knowledge.

Most of the neoclassical material can be found in any ordinary text.
Supplementary readings can provide the rest. Your supplementary
readings are then of a theoretical nature rather than the usual
issues discussions, etc. which can be covered in the macro semester,
treating macro not as "macro" but as applied economics.

The balanced approach forces critics of your course to advocate a
lack of balance if your course is to be changed.

A lot of people I've discussed this with tell me they think students
will be confused by the more or less equal presentation of more than
one paradigm. This is to a certain extent true, but how do they
handle this in other social sciences where there is less consensus
even in the context of an overall bourgeois approach? In any case
isn't legitimate confusion better than a bogus certainty only
marginally undermined by what often appear to be niggling criticisms.

Terry McDonough