Creative mental forces are lacking lately. Intellectual ones, not so much. In the last two weeks I’ve read one very good book and started another.
The first, The Moral Measure of the Economy, is an excellent crash course in applied Catholic Social Teaching, written by Chuck Collins and Mary Wright. For those who are pressed for time and well-versed in CST and how it shapes the way one thinks about the economy, poverty, et al., and I would recommend skimming through up until Chapter 7. It is at this point that the authors talk about alternatives. Their disucssion is both wide-ranging and coherent, covering ideas from community organizing to worker-owned cooperatives.
The second, Economics: Neoclassical versus Marxian, was writtenby Richard Wolff and Stephen Resnick at UMass Amherst. These authors are Marxian economists, btu the first third of the book essentially reads like a self-aware intermediate micro textbook. All the basics, from individual utility curves to production functions to AS and AD, are covered. In discussing neoclassical economics, they pull all their punches and choose to merely point out the assumptions one must make to paint a neoclassical world. At times, their portrayal of the resulting worldview even sounds favorable. For instance:
According to neoclassical theory, profit income is due partly to an individual’s personal actions in regard to saving and partly to the productivity of a thing called capital…to criticize and individual for receiving a relatively high profit income is virtually absurd. Are we to cast blame on the inherent productivity of a nonliving thing, capital…? (82).
Of course, I know the book is going to proceed to shred neoclassical theory when it presents the basis of Marxian theory. They’ve already beat the drum of neoclassical economics’ key assumptions (and the exclusion of class as an entry point). They call these assumptions “the governing essences,” which can be boiled down to preferences, production function, and endowments. Indeed, if all of these essences are taken as given as the basis for discussion, who wouldn’t subsequently derive neoclassical theory (assuming, of course, some mathematical ingenuity).
More on this book when I’ve finished, but I like its approach. Don’t just write a polemic that criticizes the consequences of a theory; instead, criticize the assumptions, the “essences”, and the entry points.