Re: [OPE-L] Publishing and selling books on political economy

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Fri May 26 2006 - 11:18:09 EDT

> Would you accept Sam as an authority on these questions?

Hi Mike L,

No, but then even if I had, it would not sway me since I am
not attracted to appeals by authority.  I think that the "Young
Bowles" was more interesting than the "Late Bowles."   I'm
not convinced that "Post-Walrasian political economy" has
anything  progressive from which Marxians could learn.  But,
I am open to learning more ....

> And would you proudly declare
> that you have no use for "marxist" books (while staying on this list
> and contributing regularly to our exhausted discourse)?

No, but what Jurriaan wrote didn't offend me.  He will probably
disagree with the following assessment but I believe he is struggling
in his own way with what many Marxists are: namely, how to
free and liberate socialist economic discourse and research from the
dead weight of tradition, dogmatism,  and hermeneutics?  Even
if I answer that question differently than him, I recognize that we
are asking some of the same questions ... and besides he usually
has interesting stuff to say (can't say that I care for those song lyrics
at the end of posts, but that's a minor stylistic quibble).


Returning to the main issue in the thread:

Jurriaan referred to "supply side" and "demand side" issues.
I see the S and D side issues somewhat differently.


1. The single biggest factor causing the lack of demand for books
on Marxian and heterodox economists is, simply, the quantity
of  people who are interested in scholarly books in this subject

a. Overall, I would say that the single largest factor for this
is objective and can be traced back to the diminishing number
of people interested in studying political economy after the
1970s.  I say it is objective since the population of students
of p.e. who stayed interested in this field was fueled by the
youth radicalization of the 1960's and 1970's. When the
radicalization ended then people studying radical political
economy (both formally in graduate school and informally
in study groups, etc.) descended precipitously. All one
has to do is look at the age distribution of radical economists
to see this.

b. With the end of that radicalization and the increasing
isolation and hostility experienced by scholars in academic
departments -- along with a re-questioning of presumptions
after the fall of the USSR, etc. --  many of the radicals who
were interested in political economy have gone mainstream or
are attracted to new forms of  heterodoxy such as institutional

2.  The subjects of some scholarly books, quite frankly, only
appeal to very small quantities of scholars.  E.g. who wants
to buy another expensive volume on the "transformation
problem"?  Given 3) below, if you expect a book to sell in
greater quantity than you have to write on topics of the
most interest to scholars in the field.  This implies writing on
new, innovative, and socially and politically important subjects
and interpretations.

3.  To have a demand for books, one must not only have
willingness, one must also have ability.  This means, of course,
that one must have the money necessary to purchase the books.

Fred Lee wrote that he was directing his comment "to those
who have the income to buy the books".    OK, but how many
radical economists can afford to buy the new scholarly books
(especially hardcovers)?

a)  How many Marxian scholars, for instance, in Argentina,
Tanzania, or the Philippines can afford to buy those books --
unless they are heavily subsidized?  Not many.

b) In the US and some other nations, colleges are increasingly
relying on contingent, part-time faculty (like myself) who are
(to put it bluntly) impoverished.  How many of the scholars in
that kind of work situation can afford to buy many of these
books?  Not many.

c) Even full-time and tenured faculty suffer from budget
constraints.  Even they have opportunity costs.  Even they
have other financial responsibilities.  Life happens in capitalist
society and it costs.  Scholarly books cost enough that these
comrades also usually have to make choices about which and
how many books to purchase.  (There is also a choice to
be made about the allocation of time.  Mike L's most recent
comments are pertinent in this regard. Given our other -- political,
social, family, work, writing, etc. --  responsibilities, how many of
us are in a situation where we have the time required to seriously
study all of the new volumes of interest?)

Supply Side:

Publishers, whether they are mainstream or radical, experience
economies of scale and this affects their pricing decisions.
Given the limited demand for scholarly books on Marxian
political economy, they simply _have_ to charge huge prices
-- unless they are subsidized by a third-party.  I don't
think these (mostly small) publishers are trying to gouge buyers
-- they're just trying to recover their costs and receive a profit
that will allow them to continue their businesses. (This is
different in some ways from the market for college texts.)

It is, of course, possible for alterative radical publishers
to sell books at lower prices (Monthly Review Press and
Autonomedia come to mind, but there are others).  Even
so, they have to consider -- unless they are heavily
subsidized -- the demand for volumes before making a
decision about price and quantity.  It's no accident that these
publishers tend to print more popular volumes of immediate
political interest than volumes of interest basically only to


I'm not sure what are the best answers to these problems.
Surely, we should try to get libraries to purchase scholarly
books.  Fred Lee's suggestion to collectively buy and
share volumes is a possibility, but one which would require the
emergence of more widespread forms of scholarly collaboration
and research than is currently the state amongst most radical

What would be VERY helpful would be the creation of a
FUND specifically earmarked for research by scholars
internationally on Marxian political economy which could cover
books costs, traveling expenses, research grants, etc.  I
don't see Bill Gates setting up such a fund.  However, if there
is an archives reader who has deep pockets and would like to
create such a fund please contact me at and
I will be very happy to assist such a worthwhile project.
(Hey, it never hurts to ask.)

An additional alterative and the one which I believe will eventually
happen (and, in fact, is already happening to a great extent) is
for publishing to shift away from the traditional to the electronic
format.  This obviously radically lowers production costs and
creates the possibility of publishing 'free', or relatively very
inexpensive, books.  This requires a transition also (already well
underway) in the way in which scholars read books and do
research.  Furthermore, it requires some changes in expectations
(of income and, possibly, prestige) by authors.  There's no question,
though, that it is a change which is well underway: the writing is
already on the cyber-wall (the computer screen).

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed May 31 2006 - 00:00:03 EDT