[OPE-L:6255] Re: What do you teach in your micro and IO classes?

Ajit Sinha (ecas@cc.newcastle.edu.au)
Tue, 10 Mar 1998 14:39:21 +1000

At 15:09 9/03/98 +0000, you wrote:
>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?

Hello All! I'm coming back after a few months, and don't know what has gone
on while I was away. In anycase, on this issue, let me tell you that I'm
currently teaching a third year micro class, and this is how I have
designed my course:

(1) Introduction: A general distinction between scarcity approach paradigm
and surplus approach paradigm.

(2) A Critique of partial equilibrium approach, particularly the circular
logic of determination of prices and income. Thus, a need for general

(3) General equilibrium theory. Welfare economics.

(4) Critique of GE theory, a la Clower and Garegnani. Critique of Welfare
economics, a la A. K. Sen.

(5) Theory of Distribution in Ricardo.

(6) Need for a theory of value in Ricardo. Critique of Ricardo's LTV.

(7) Marx's theory of historical materialism and his theory of exploitation.

(8) Need for a theory of price in Marx. A critique of Marx's theory of
price--the transformation problem.

(9) Sraffa's theory of prices and distribution. Reswitching as a logical

(10) A critical evaluation of Kalecki's theory of prices and distribution.

(11) A summing up.

As far as first year micro is concerned. I think not much can be done. I
think it is important to point out that there are alternative paradigms,
and that micro paradigm has many weeknesses. But I think students need to
learn micro economics, and learn it well, if they are going to do anything
in economics.

On a completely another note: Did we come up with any decision on ope-l
archives? I think it should be opened up. Cheers, ajit sinha
>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