[OPE] "an immense accumulation of factors": Rick Wolff's partial list of causes of the economic crisis

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Sun Nov 16 2008 - 06:23:42 EST

If Rick Wolff is left with "an immense accumulation of factors", he is doing no better than offering a liberal multi-variate analysis of social problems with a leftist flavour. I consider that is the direct result of the adoption of Althusserian ideology, in which the factors included in an "overdetermined" reality could be aligned in all sorts of different ways, and the chains of causation could run in all sorts of ways.

I don't regard this as science, because science aims to devise theory out of a conscientious study of experience, which tells us that certain possibilities are ruled out, and that within the frame of real possibilities, some variants will occur or are more likely to occur than others. For this you don't need a philosophy of determinism, but a study of what determines what. A theoretical interpretation which leads to the conclusion that anything can or might happen, depending on how the factors are aligned, isn't useful, because it provides no orientation for behaviour, at most it tells us that what will happen, depends just on what we choose to do.

But that isn't particularly insightful, it is more or less a platitude, in particular because the choices themselves do not occur in a void, but within a determinate setting which limits the kinds of choices that can be made, and indeed promotes the adoption of certain choices in preference to others. That is the very reason why we seek to be scientifically informed. Science would be superfluous, if the outcome just depends exclusively on what we decide to do.

At most Rick Wolff is saying that Marxism contains the possibility for explaining the crisis, but he hasn't explained it. That is like "trying to eat the Marxist cake when you haven't baked it", savouring the subtle nuances of flavour and commenting on the ingredients, without knowing how they were combined to achieve the gustatory effect. Well I'm sure we all like to sit down to a convivial banquet serving up a great variety of complementary dishes that we haven't cooked ourselves, and comment to our table partners on which dishes, and in what combination, most delight the palate.

The real task however is to bake the cake, and for this the "concept" of what the cake ought to look and taste like, is at best a goal you have, the real challenge is to know the ingredients required, how to combine them and cook them in such a way that it produces the cake. Otherwise you just get a half-baked result. And of course we have no proof that we indeed have the cake we want, until we've actually baked it. If somebody else bakes the cake, we don't even know how it's done, it's the cook's secret.

It is not that the whole idea of policy is bizarre - it is just that some policies are bizarre because the evidential basis for them is lacking. A policy says that "this is the situation, these are the options for what we can do, and given the means-ends relationships we work with, this is what we should do, because it is most likely to obtain the result we seek". If that is impossible, then any rational politics is impossible, and you might as well kiss socialism goodbye.


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Received on Sun Nov 16 06:31:57 2008

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