Re: [OPE-L] Jacques Gouverneur's new text on Marxist economics

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Thu Feb 03 2005 - 10:45:04 EST


To return to basics -- and Alejandro's remarks about what makes a
good text -- one has to remember, especially:

o   what course is the text to be used for?  If one is teaching a class
in introductory economics then a text designed for that purpose is
to be preferred, ceteris paribus.  Some of the other books you
mentioned (e.g. Fine/Saad-Filho, Ranganayakamma, Foley) were
not designed for that purpose but as secondary texts in courses on
the history of economic thought or on  reading Marx's _Capital_.
Perhaps such a book could serve as a _secondary_ text for an
introductory economics class, but they can not serve as a
substitute for a primary text.

o  how long is the course?  In many colleges introductory economics
is taught as a 2 semester sequence; in many other colleges it is
taught as a 1 semester course.  One has to pick a text with this
constraint in mind.  Bowles and Edwards was "an introductory text
designed for use in either one-semester microeconomics,
one-semester macroeconomics, or single-semester micro- and
macroeconomics combined courses".  I used B&E for a 1
semester combined class and it served that purpose admirably.

o  how will time constraints affect coverage?  _Especially_ in 1
semester combination classes one has to either eliminate entire
topics from the course outline or deal with them very briefly
because of the very real time constraint that one is working
with.  It is simply not fair to the students to assign readings
as if the course were a 2 semester course when it's not.  I
would have personally preferred perhaps 20 more pages in
B&E on mainstream theory, but one could assign a short
supplementary reading for this purpose so it wasn't a huge
deal, imo. There was, in fairness, though,  _some_ coverage
of mainstream theory (e.g. in Ch. 3 on "The Origins of Political

o  who are the students?   The students for whom this book
was assigned were electrical apprentices who were members
of Local 3, IBEW.  Unlike most textbooks, B&E was pro-
labor.  It also had very good sections on wages, segmented labor
markets, etc. that I thought were important topics for _those_
students to learn about.

o what are some other characteristics that make for a good
text? I mentioned some previously (an extensive glossary,
highlighted sections including marginal or end of chapter
summaries, questions for discussion, clear writing, easy
to understand graphs, figures, and formulas, etc.).  B&E was
good at all of this -- overall, I would say that it was better
organized as a text than Green & Sutcliffe or Wolff & Resnick.

o are instructors _required_ by their departments or some
other authority to cover certain materials?  If that is the case,
then that severely limits one's options.

o  what is your pedagogical perspective?  E.g.  some instructors
emphasize learning through graphs and formulas, others
emphasize writing in the classroom, others emphasize critical
discussion, etc.  Different texts often embody different
perspectives on the learning process.  I know radical professors
who prefer to teach mainstream economic theory but in a
critical way.  Others prefer to present an alternative (heterodox)
perspective. Others emphasize the diversity of thought and
the need to critically examine different perspectives.  I prefer
the latter, but I can tell you that it is _much_ easier to critically
teach mainstream economic theory than to adopt either of the
last two options.  It really boil down to the question: what is
the best way to enhance classroom learning? Different instructors
will answer that question differently and I don't want to tell
others how they must teach; neither do I want them telling me
how I must teach.  Yet, I think there are progressive and
traditional forms of pedagogy and so-called 'radical' faculty
should at least _try_ the latter.

Once these questions have been answered, then one can
go about selecting a text.  Selecting a text is by no means a simple
decision -- especially if one has to choose between a
number of alternatives which are all undesirable.

In addition to the above,  I think the cost of the text should
be considered.  One should also decide what is a reasonable
amount of reading to assign students.

Quick comments on the rest of your remarks:

> This seems to define profit, not explain it. That residual could then
> be explained as a reward for the supply of entrepreneurial skill, for
> the absorption of risk, for waiting, etc. Or is there something left
> over after that? Why?

That is briefly explained in other sections.

> >The single biggest shortcoming from a learning perspective with B&E
> >was that it presented their perspective with barely a reference to
> >mainstream theory.
> Yes, I think it is impossible to teach without such engagement.

It doesn't _have_ to be a major emphasis in an introductory economics

[Among other things, B&E had excellent figures which summarized
statistical data (e.g. -- hi Paul A -- on market concentration) and
related those statistics to the rest of the text.  I think  this is an
important characteristic to look for in a text.]

> >   Another alternative at the time -- which I
> >think is also out-of-print -- was Richard D. Wolff and Stephen A.
> >Resnick _Economics:  Marxian Versus Neoclassical_ (The John
> >Hopkins University Press, 1987).   <snip, JL>
> I think this is a very helpful book because it is inherently critical
> of the mainstream alternative. So is Ranganayakamma, Saad-Filho and
> Fine, and Foley. I don't think it's an accident that the texts which
> are interested in the critique of mainstream theory are also the
> truest to Marx.

Again, R, S-F&F, & F  are not designed to be the primary text  for
introductory courses in economics.  One can not simply take a book
which presents an interpretation of _Capital_ and treat it "as if" it
were intended for a different purpose.

> But this does not explain why risk or waiting or entpreneurial skill
> did not go into producing them.

I don't recall if that was answered elsewhere in G&S.  but, so what?
You can always talk about it in class, can't you?  You can assign a
short additional reading, can't you?  If you are looking for the 'perfect'
text  to teach this subject, you won't find it.

> It is simply not specific enough. How does profit arise out of
> production? What is the relation between production and circulation?

That is dealt with in G&S, I believe.

> There is a helpful book by Obransky (sp?) Profit Theory and Capitalism.

Mark Obrinsky (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983).  Yes, that's
a good book but I think Michael Howard's _Profits in Economic Theory_
(St. Martin's Press, 1983) is better.  Neither of these books could serve
as a primary text for an introductory course in economics.

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Feb 04 2005 - 00:00:01 EST