Posts Tagged ‘Marxian’

For the benefit of those who have not yet begun to follow his blog, here’s David Ruccio taking my bait on Sen’s recasting of Smith. I have just a small comment below.

Mainstream economists cite Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as the founding text of modern economics. But, as I’ve mentioned before, while they often cite the Wealth of Nations, they rarely read it, and they certainly don’t read it in conjunction with Smith’s other great book of moral philosophy, the Theory of Moral Sentiments.

That’s an error Amartya Sen sets out to correct—in his most recent “Manifesto”and as far back as his lectures On Ethics and Economics. Sen reads Smith against the grain of contemporary mainstream economic thought, both inside the academy (in the form of neoclassical economics, who celebrate free-market capitalism) and outside (for example, the views of right-wing politicians and bankers, who rail against any and all government interventions into markets).

And, for the most part, Sen gets Smith right: It’s important to read the Wealth of Nations in conjunction with and against the background of the Theory of Moral Sentiments. Capitalist markets operate not only on the basis of self-interest but other motives, such as humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit. Smith was in favor of government programs, such as free public education and poverty relief (after discussing, in some detail, the mind-numbing drudgery of factory work), and suspicious of capitalists’ arguments that their projects were always in the public interest. He was opposed to colonial restrictions (although not against the civilizing mission, for the rest of the planet outside Western Europe, of capitalist markets). And so on.

That’s why Sen finds Smith’s vision to have “a remarkably current ring.” Capitalist markets need trust and sympathy, in addition to self-interest; capitalist markets create class divisions and are not an Eden of equal opportunity. It’s a testament to how much toward the authoritarian Right mainstream economic thought has moved—in terms both of celebrating free markets and of attempting to eliminate all other forms of economic theory—that Sen’s Smith appears downright progressive.

But, as Nick notes, there is much that is missing from or overlooked within Smith’s attack on mercantilism and celebration of the rise of commercial capitalism. And much that Marx was critical of when he read Smith in the British Museum and started to write Capital.

Let me mention two such criticisms. First, he took issue with the idea that there was a natural and universal “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” Instead, Marx argued (especially in the section on commodity fetishism) that the set of characteristics that allowed human beings to engage in commodity exchange were a historical and social creation. There was nothing natural and universal about them.

Second, Marx criticized Smith’s theory of value. While Marx engaged Smith (and classical political economy generally) on the basis of the labor theory of value (which, of course, neoclassical economists rejected, in the late-nineteenth century), he showed that the adding-up theory of value (according to which wages, profits, and rents could be explained as the rewards to separate factors of production, labor, capital, and land) could not explain the origin of profits as surplus-value. Once Marx distinguished labor from labor power, he was able to demonstrate that wages came from necessary labor and the rest, profits and rent, from surplus labor. Capitalists appropriated surplus-value (some of which were then retained as profits, the rest distributed to landlords) for doing nothing. That became the basis of Marx’s theory of exploitation.

In general terms, Marx started his analysis where Smith left off, with the wealth of nations. Here are the first two sentences of Capital:

The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

That’s the problem with Sen’s economic manifesto. He stops with Smith instead of starting there; he attempts to apply Smith to our times instead of developing a critique of Smith for our times. He wants to add trust and sympathy to unbridled capitalism, and not to take the next step—of understanding capital as a social relationship, and of abolishing it.

I’ll just add that most economists only use Smith as a philosophical, not methodological, starting point. Smith’s theory of value has virtually no bearing on the economics done today- it’s been replaced with a utility/profit maximization framework, which warrants a post for another day (hopefully Wednesday). Why bother with the critique when you’re not really bothering with the original text itself?

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This one is almost too easy. Krugman charges freshwater macroeconomists with epistemic closure. He writes,

Ask a grad student at Princeton or MIT, “How would a new classical macro guy answer this?”, and the student can do it; classes at freshwater departments teach real business cycle theory, and good students can tell you what it says even if their professors have a different view.

But students at freshwater schools — or, alas, many of their professors — can’t return the favor. It’s been painfully obvious since the crisis broke that people at Minnesota, or even many people at Chicago, have no idea what New Keynesian economics is all about. I don’t mean they disagree, or think it’s garbage, they literally have no idea what the concepts are. And that’s why they reinvent 80-year-old fallacies when they try to discuss the subject.

It’s interesting to ask why this sort of cocooning is a feature of the right but not the left. But it’s very real, and has a dire impact on economic as well as political discourse.

Of course, we can just as easily replace salt-water students in this analogy with students of heterodox economics/political economy, and freshwater economics with the whole mainstream. For instance, ask a post-Keynesian or a Marxian to hold court on IS/LM, and they can do it easily. This is not because these economists are heroic; instead, they realize that is essential to build a counter-theory by learning the original theory and its critique.

My course in Marxian political economy began with a reschooling in intermediate micro and macro- we actually learned this stuff better a second time by being forced to think critically about it. However, ask Krugman or his friends at Princeton and MIT about the starting point for Marx’s critique (hint: use-value versus exchange value) or Polanyi’s (hint: embeddedness) and I fear their eyes might glaze over. If the mainstream response to my argument is that the aforementioned critiques are not “serious economics,” well, we no longer have anything to talk about.

P.S. (private message for David Ruccio)- since I’ve dispensed with this one easily enough, hopefully you can take some time to follow up on my post re: Sen/Smith.

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Alan Greenspan will present a paper at Brookings tomorrow (I didn’t get an invite) on the causes of the financial crisis. According to the New York Times, Greenspan acknowledges that there was a bubble, but says that there would have been no way to identify it or pop it. Instead, he writes,

Unless there is a societal choice to abandon dynamic markets and leverage for some form of central planning, I fear that preventing bubbles will in the end turn out to be infeasible. Assuaging their aftermath seems the best we can hope for.

Isn’t this similar to the argument that Karl Marx made 160 years ago? Or Minsky 60 years ago?

Greenspan’s solution is certainly different, and he doesn’t believe that the contradictions that necessarily cause these bubbles will also cause capitalism to end. However, the diagnosis is distinctly Marxian/Minskyian. It certainly doesn’t seem Hayekian.

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Via Meteor Blades, Guernica has an article about how the social division of labor arose and how we might move beyond it as we recover from the current economic crisis.

Instead of putting forward, as so many of our elected officials, policy analysts, pundits, and journalists predictably do, a picture of our world that is essentially the same, except that it is somehow “green” and somehow peopled with college-educated or better “trained” workers, we need to focus our attention on the more pressing and more basic question of what kinds of work people should be expected to devote their lives to doing. The last time this question—the question of meaningful, satisfying, dignified labor—got a public hearing was in the nineteen sixties and seventies, with Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital being the intellectual high-water mark. What Braverman convincingly demonstrated is that there is nothing natural or inevitable about our system of labor; that it came about through conscious decisions made by industrial capitalists in the name of profit for them alone…

Rochelle Gurstein, the author, makes an explicit connection with this division and the beginning of environmental issues:

We must also keep sight of the historical fact that not only did monopoly capital and the division of labor emerge together in the last decades of the nineteenth century, but so, too, did those alarming “plague clouds” and a sun that was “blanched” rather than “reddened”—those first unmistakable signs of industrial pollution that John Ruskin decried in a lecture entitled “The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century” (1884). To address one of these historical developments without the other two is to ensure that we will never move beyond the narrow confines of current thinking…

The problem, however, is that our current way of thinking about jobs is deeply ingrained:

It is worth recalling the profusion of skilled practices that once existed…Over the last century and a half, however, the social division of labor penetrated ever more dimensions of daily life…Thus it has become increasingly difficult to imagine how to revive what has vanished both from practice and from memory, let alone how a world might come into being where the greater number of things we use or, better yet—to suggest the enormous change in consciousness that is required—things we enjoy using in our daily life are made by people who enjoy making them.

Is the organic and local food movement a good analogy for a way out?

It seems to me that a good starting point for how to bring about a similar revolution in thinking and practice when it comes to work is the principle that just as monoculture is disastrous for our health and security when it comes to food, lack of variety in work is just as disastrous for our well-being and happiness. The ideology of ceaseless economic growth, made possible by the division of labor that has filled our world with ugly things from the Styrofoam cup to smog in our skies, has always been vapid and destructive. Now, with the implosion of the global financial system, the American way of life as model for global expansion stands exposed as unsustainable as well.

There really are limits to our vision of what the world can look like in the future. It’s relatively easy to imagine what our world might look like in 5 years, but 50 years off is an entirely different story. Most people, myself included, get a headache when confronted with the issues presented by “futurists.” However, as cheesy as this sounds, (and copying from a World Social Forum’s slogan), another world is possible. Perhaps the co-op movement, which I am very excited about, holds some promise for a rethinking of the social division. Worker-led appropriation and distribution of surplus is radical enough, but what if the role of “worker” is rethought entirely as well? I’m not just talking about rotating folks through different assembly-piece jobs, but something deeper.

In this regard, I’m reminded of a recent episode of The Office, which has unintentionally uncovered a number of deep truths about work throughout its run. In this particular instance, a warehouse worker (the head of the warehouse), makes a suggestion about how to implement a new inventory system, including a sketch of how it would work. His boss scoffs (there’s also a racial tension, as the boss is white, but the warehouse worker is black), but the boss’ new boss is impressed and gives the warehouse head an office upstairs.

It’s a trite example, but it underscores the improtance of subsidiarity, that those closest to the impact of a decision should be involved in making it. In fact, deeper principles like subsidiarity or sustainability might provide the way forward for this rethinking. We don’t know what the world will look like in 50 years, but we do know the basic principles around which it should be structured. Better yet, we can apply these principles in a citizen-led movement that doesn’t require government policy, which Gurstein points out is quite tone-deaf to these concerns. That gives me some hope.

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This set of notes is very interesting- in fact, given the internet’s system of information production and distribution, I think it would be a grave injustice to excerpt it. On that note, here’s Daniel Little:

John Rawls taught a course on the history of political philosophy throughout much of his career at Harvard University. The course contained his description and analysis of the most important figures in modern political philosophy, including Mill, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Marx. The course evolved over time; the final version from 1994 is edited in Samuel Freeman’s Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy. I served as graduate assistant in Rawls’s lectures on this subject in fall 1973, and recently reread my notes of the course. Here are my notes of a particularly important lecture towards the end of the course: Rawls’s treatment of Marx’s ideas about economic justice. This lecture demonstrates Rawls’s understanding of the fundamentals of Marx’s economic theories and the labor theory of value. (I am inclined to think that Joseph Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis (1954) was an important source for Rawls on the history of economic thought, including Marx’s economics, though I can’t at this moment confirm this.) This lecture is particularly significant in that it is roughly simultaneous with the emergence of “analytical Marxism” announced by the publication of an important article by Allen Wood, “The Marxian Critique of Justice” in Philosophy and Public Affairs in 1972 (link).


John Rawls, History of Political Philosophy, Phil 171, fall 1973
Notes from lecture, December 11, 1973
[notes taken by Daniel Little; intended to capture Rawls’s formulations of the main points presented in the lecture]

[Quoting Rawls:]

Capital seems to be a description of an unjust society. The owners of the means of production live in relative abundance and idleness at the expense of the ever-growing class of wretched laborers. But Marx doesn’t make any attempt to present an argument that capitalism is unjust, nor any concept of justice which would back up such an argument. Moreover, we have vitriolic criticisms of utopian socialists who did condemn capitalism on the grounds of justice. Marx asserts on the contrary, that capitalism is perfectly fair, perfectly just. Why so?

(a) It is not enough to say Marx is averse to preaching or moralizing. He is so averse; but judgments of justice can be reasoned and hence not properly described as “preaching”.

(b) It is not enough to say that he didn’t want the critique of capitalism to rest on some social ideal. He does reject the utopian socialists’ program; but that would not prevent him from stating his own opinion. And he doesn’t do that either. He reproaches the utopians for not realizing that some major social change must precede an adjustment along moral lines.

Here is my conjecture as to why Marx didn’t judge capitalism unjust. He thinks of justice as a political and juridical conception which is associated with a particular conception of the state and society; so it belongs to the prehistory of mankind. Given his picture of human society, these political and juridical institutions belong to the superstructure, and reflect the workings of the mode of production. For each mode of production there is a conception of justice appropriate to it, at least in prehistory. A further qualification: It is worthwhile to distinguish between the high time of a form and its low period — where the form is a progressive force and where it stands in contradiction to the mode of production.

Here is a brief discussion of justice in Capital III:

To speak here of natural justice, as Gilbart does, is nonsense. The justice of the transactions between agents of production rests on the fact that these arise as natural consequences out of the production relationships. The juristic forms in which these economic transactions appear as wilful acts of the parties concerned, as expressions of their common will and as contracts that may be enforced by law against some individual party, cannot, being mere forms, determine this content. They merely express it. This content is just whenever it corresponds, is appropriate to the mode of production. It is unjust whenever it contradics that mode. Slavery on the basis of capitalist production is unjust; likewise fraud in the quality of commodities. (Capital III, 339-40)Here Marx conceives of justice in terms of adequacy to the mode of production. (1) The justice of legal forms cannot be discovered on the basis of those forms alone. Rather it depends upon their adequacy to the mode of production. The juridical institution is formal; to give it content we must look to the way of life and its requirements. A consequence: There is no universal theory of justice which allows us to evaluate generally the social institutions of any society. There is no general principle like “slavery is always unjust.” There are thus no general rules of natural rights, no universal justice. (2) This adjustment of justice to the mode of production doesn’t mean there are no injustices. Slavery is unjust under capitalism; wage labor is just under capitalism, provided that the worker is paid the value of his labor power.

This view seems to suggest a sort of relativism; but this would be a faulty conclusion. We have a theory matching theories of justice with modes of production, and we might at some time find a function systematically linking them.

Let’s now try out this suggestion on the conception of surplus value. The utopians argued that workers ought to be paid the value of their contribution to the firm. Since they are not, capitalism is unjust. Marx rejects this view. It makes the appropriation of surplus value appear accidental — as if the capitalists could act differently. Marx required a theory of value which made the appropriation of surplus value a necessary part of the capitalist system. On the theory of value every commodity is exchanged for a strict equivalent.

Marx distinguishes between the product of labor and labor power. The worker is given the value of his labor power, not his product. It is on this ground that he is fairly treated. Thus he is undercutting the Ricardian socialist position by rejecting and replacing the principle of contribution. It is the system itself which brings about surplus value, not the behavior of individuals who violate moral principles. Surplus value is an intrinsic part of the working of the social institutions of capitalism.

Consider the description of the production of surplus value in Capital

Every condition of the problem is satisfied, while the laws that regulate the exchange of commodities, have been in no way violated. Equivalent has been exchanged for equivalent. For the capitalist as buyer paid for each commodity, for the cotton, the spindle and the labour-power, its full value. He then did what is done by every purchaser of commodities; he consumed their use-value. … This metamorphosis, this conversion of money into capital, takes place both within the sphere of circulation and also outside it; within the circulation because it is conditioned by the purchase of the labour-power in the market; outside the circulation, because what is done within it is only a stepping-stone to the production of surplus value. (Capital I, p. 194)The fact that surplus value arises is a piece of good fortune for the buyer, but no injustice to the seller.

Marx thus rejects the Ricardian principle of contribution. He finds it a bourgeois notion, basing property rights on one’s labor.

Summing up. (1) Marx views the notion of justice as a virtue of legal forms and institutions, and thus perhaps it is a notion which belongs to prehistory. The state depends upon the mode of production. (2) Marx doesn’t deny that the various conceptions of justice have formal features in common — exchange of equivalents for equivalents — but the notion of what is equivalent is determined in different ways. Marx would be prepared to admit that capitalism in its high period is just. One reason he rejects the utopian’s argument is that it is misleading. It rests on a misapprehension of where the essential problem lies: not in the superstructure, but in the mode of production. He felt that the key enterprise is to give a scientific theory of the mode of production.

A second point: justice is a distributive notion. The appeal to justice suggests that we can separate the mode of distribution from the mode of production. This is for Marx incorrect. Appeals to justice are thus supposed to be superficial. Moreover, appeal to justice suggests that important social change can be achieved by legislation.

The essence of these ideas were taught to me in my class on Marxian Economic Theory, albeit with a slightly different tenor. We did learn that capitalist’s were merely doing what one would expect given the economic system. However, I never felt as if I shouldn’t interpret the system as unjust. In fact, much of my anger and thought about our economic system has revolved around notions of social justice (shocking, I know, coming from a Catholic Social Teaching minor). Who could read Marx’s line about capital sucking the blood of workers and not move to thought of injustice.

So forgive me if after reading these notes on Rawls, I’m a bit confused; if the system (or super-structure) of production is set up in a way that produces unjust results, then who cares if we deem the actors as behaving justly. Why wouldn’t we deem the system unjust, and then as Marx argues, seek to replace it? I suppose this issue ultimately goes to semantics, at least in Rawls’ conception (or Little’s interpretation thereof). The quote, “Marx views the notion of justice as a virtue of legal forms and institutions, and thus perhaps it is a notion which belongs to prehistory. The state depends upon the mode of production,” strikes me as most relevant to this point. Nevertheless, in our current linguistic structure, it strikes me that calling capitalism unjust is perfectly appropriate because it transmits the meaning I want it to transmit: that capitalism inherently results in extremely bad (or unfair, or whatever) outcomes, such as poverty and alienation.

I am glad, though, that Marx is being discussed in a genuine manner, rather than merely dismissed because of the conclusions of his analysis that some find unsavory.

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Rick Wolff argues that the rise in income inequality, and the false scapegoating around its causes, have prevented systemic change:

There is no mystery about why income inequality got so much worse.  The real wages of average workers stopped rising during the 1970s (after having risen for a century or more).  Meanwhile those workers’ productivity kept rising…

Most American workers have not understood, nor were they informed, why they were falling ever further behind…They did not grasp that their decline flowed fromchanged social conditions that ended the tradition of rising wages for rising productivity. First among those conditions were thecomputers that replaced so many jobs…Second, there were the millions of US housewives and immigrants newly looking for paid work in the US after the 1970s — out of necessity and desires for better lives.  The US labor market thus experienced a combination of shrinking demand for workers just as more workers looked for jobs.  Employers from Main Street to Wall Street took advantage of the changed conditions…

Few among the lower 90 per cent understood how the changed social conditions combined with the economic system to cause their falling income shares.  Instead, many blamed themselves or friends and family or found still other scapegoats…but, more importantly, missed a chance to see and solve the problems of the economic system…

What malfunctioned over the last 30 years was the economic system; it generated a divisive, depressing, and dangerous pattern of economic development.  It was the system of production — where employers and employees endlessly seek advantages at each other’s expense — that stopped raising workers wages. It was the financial part of the system that pushed unsustainable loans…It was the political part of the system that looked the other way…

After all, the leading ideologues in the US — politicians, media personalities, and academics — had mostly bought into the system with enthusiasm…

To remove this or that scapegoat while leaving the system in place is no solution…Regulations constraining what private enterprises can do for profit only provoke them further to manipulate and/or corrupt politicians to evade, alter, or remove the regulations.  The system works that way and normally compels its parts to do likewise.  That is what “system” means.  But a systemic crisis like today’s is “abnormal,” a window onto possible system-change that would be terrible to waste.

I think Wolff is right on with focusing on the issue of scapegoating. In fact, this process, broadly defined, is the main reason why the economic crisis has not swung the regulatory/labor-capital pendulum back in favor of labor and regulation. Ignorance about the roots of the crisis (mainly abetted by scapegoating) have muddled the calls for changes. Modern populism has taken a very odd form, in which much ire is directed against regulation and labor unions.

Thus, while I once strongly believed in the backlash predicted by social structure of accumulation theory, the last 12 months have constrained my optimism. The failure of passing an adequate stimulus, real health care reform, EFCA, financial regulatory reform, and even cap and trade, have left me somewhat hopeless. How do we go about de-scapegoating? A lot of the bloggers are doing yeoman’s work on this stuff, but one questions whether these posts reach policy makers, much less lower and middle class Americans. Maybe things like the Zinn Education Project can bring about a broader conception of how our economic and political system actually produces unequal results. Maybe not. However we get there, de-scapegoating seems necessary for real change.

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It’s odd (but perhaps not unexpected) that I haven’t written much about Africa since it became my primary job focus. I found this piece by Jason Hickel in MRZine interesting as a follow-up to this poverty and human rights post from last June. In that post, I discussed Bill Easterly’s concerns with using human rights as an entry point for humanitarian aid. I concluded,

I have a hard time disagreeing with [Easterly] on these points. A human rights framework certainly provides ample motivation for fighting poverty, but it is lacking in the “how” area.

I think he misses one key point, though: social rights can inform approaches that emphasize the importance of subsidiarity in aid programs- having decisions made at the most local level possible. Of course, this effort must be combined with political and civil rights that build the capacity so that this type of process can actually happen.

Perhaps we can do better than rights, though. Hickel’s piece discusses South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy and the failings of the rights-based approach.

the state conveniently sidelines substantive questions of class…The reformers insist that the failures we sense are due merely to problems of implementation, that “rights” are the solution to social inequality.  South Africa has the most progressive constitution in the world, they remind us: it’s just a matter of realizing the rights that all citizens have been assigned.  If we can manage to beef up bureaucracy and expand service delivery, all will be well; the revolution lies therein.

The rights-based approach, as Hickel argues, reinforces state-based power structures with harmful class divides:

The state can grant people discursively constituted rights with one hand and strip them of the conditions for sustainable life with the other, without ever having to confront the contradiction.

In this sense, “rights” are a safe reformist option for a capitalist state with a progressive image to maintain.

Further, the rights that matter in the context of poverty alleviation are treated ambivalently:

socio-economic rights, however — such as rights to water, food, and housing — are only “progressively realizable,” according to the Constitution, and limited by the resources that the state has at its disposal…

When it comes to things like water and jobs, we need a fundamental paradigm shift, a transition from the notion of “rights” to the concept of “commons.”

South Africa has some basis for moving to this sort of concept. I’m not sure if it’s unique in that regard.

Hints of this hide in the Freedom Charter.  About natural resources it states, in paraphrase: “the national wealth of the country shall be restored to the people, and industry and trade shall be controlled to assist their wellbeing.”  Such words do not rely on the discourse of individual rights.  Nor do they hail the specter of command communism.  Instead, they assert the simple point that none has the right to possess and accumulate that which society holds in common.  Upholding this basic principle would not mean the abolition of private property or industry, but merely that certain public goods must be understood as commons, and that protections, profits, and benefits should accrue to people accordingly.

Conceptualizing socio-economic needs as drawing from a commons leads us to a radically different societal structure. As my former professor, David Ruccio, would often point out, we’ve made a choice as a society to not have explicit markets for things like human organs. Perhaps decommodifying water would also be reasonable. The knee-jerk neoclassical reaction to this idea is that water would then be inadequately provided. However, as many activists around the world has shown, water privatization has failed miserably.

And what about food? I can see the value of a market-based system because of the complexity that food production necessarily entails. However, the commodification of food has made it vulnerable to a host of “exogenous” shocks; many point to US biofeul legislation as the cause of the 2008 food price spike. In years past, OECD agro-subsidies have made it impossible for farmers in developing countries to produce food and expect a reliable return for their effort. I recently read the book Enough, which points out that the host of issues surrounding globally commodified food are the primary reason that Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution hasn’t spread to Africa. Our society seems to be moving the wrong direction. Developed countries are seeking to commodify carbon as well, perhaps a dangerous prospect for technological progress in that area.

Developing countries, for their part, are mostly at the whim of the global economy on these issues. South Africa, because of its size, may be able to address these problems and move to a commons-based approach to basic necessities. Uganda, however, would likely lose conditional aid if it rolled back privatization. Many developing countries simply lack the resources to mobilize desires that their civil societies might have for restructuring their economies. In any case, rights don’t seem to be getting us very far, so at the intellectual level, I’d think we should begin to use the commons as our theoretical basis.

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Daniel Little has a thought-provoking post on the so-called Brenner debate, in which the causes for the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe are disputed. The basic lines of argument are as follows:

  • population growth => economic activity => sustained economic growth (Postan)
  • weak peasant farmers, strong capitalist farmers => enclosure and farming innovations => rapid agricultural growth (Brenner)
  • enhanced protections of property rights => incentive for profitable activity => sustained economic growth (North)

However, Little argues that this schematic presents a false choice. He then abstracts a larger point:

In short, one important consequence of the Brenner debate was the renewed focus it placed on the question of social causation.  Brenner and the other participants expended a great deal of effort in developing theories of the causal mechanisms that led to economic change in this period.  And in hindsight, it appears that a lot of the energy in the debates stemmed from the false presupposition that it should be possible to identify a single master factor that explained these large changes in economic development.  But this no longer seems supportable.  Rather, historians are now much more willing to recognize the plurality of causes at work and the geographical differentiation that is inherent in almost every large historical process.

I’m only barely familiar with the terms of this debate, but Little seems to be arguing that overdetermination is a plausible approach to social causation, in itself a Marxian idea.

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Rick Wolff says that mainstream economics is ignoring one of the biggest casualties of the recession:

Capitalist crises, especially severe ones, are case studies in that system’s social costs.  Because the dutifully conservative economics profession rarely studies such cases, let’s do just that here by focusing on how the current capitalist crisis is damaging public education.  Deteriorating schools leave scars lasting for many years.  They undercut the quality of the skills and knowledge of the next generation in their individual capacities as workers, citizens, friends, parents, and so on…

Politicians concerned about their careers dare not seek extra state revenues from the corporations and the rich.  Instead they cut state services not favored by their patrons.  Since children of the rich increasingly attend private schools or certain elite public schools, politicians end up cutting chiefly the public education that serves everyone else.  As US corporations shift ever more skilled jobs overseas, they need fewer educated US workers…

Reacting to the economic crisis, both Bush’s and Obama’s administrations have allowed the state and local funding supports for public education to decline nationwide.  Educational opportunities shrink as educational inequality rises.  From coast to coast, most students’ job, income, and life prospects fall ever further behind those of children of the rich.  The US government’s response to economic crisis might well be ironically renamed as “leave no banker behind.”  Yet a collapsing public education system threatens society’s future no less than a collapsing credit market.  A president who campaigned on a program of hope presides over its evaporation for most children.

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