[OPE-L:6257] Re: What do you teach in your micro and IO classes?

Ian Hunt (Ian.Hunt@flinders.edu.au)
Wed, 11 Mar 1998 11:31:50 +1030 (CDT)

>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

Terry's approach sounds pretty good to me, though I do not teach in a
economics dept, and so don't hav emuch idea of the practical problems. At a
first approximation, Marx's micro theory is really classical micro theory,
and there are two useful books, I think, for teaching that:

V. Walsh & H. Gram, *Classical and Neo-classical Theories of General
Equilibrium* (OUP, 1980)

Broome, John, * The microeconomics of capitalism* (London ; New York :
Academic Press, 1983)