Friday, May 4, 2018

Brad DeLong — Warning! Reading Marx's Capital Can Introduce Serious Bugs into Your Wetware!: Hoisted from 2006

Contra the relevance of Marx today based on assumptions of conventional economics.

Grasping Reality
Warning! Reading Marx's Capital Can Introduce Serious Bugs into Your Wetware!: Hoisted from 2006
Brad DeLong | Professor of Economics, UCAL Berkeley

See also

Another one dismissive of Marx.

Conversable Economist
Marx on Economics: "Its True Ideal is the Ascetic but Rapacious Skinflint and the Ascetic but Productive Slave"
Timothy Taylor | Managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, based at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota

I'll be posting links to recent posts supportive of Marx separately for weekend reading.

My own view is that Marx is still relevant. Marx was not an "economist." Nor was Adam Smith. Both were philosophers and Smith was a professor of moral philosophy. 

Smith is one of the early founders of what latter developed into the branch of academic study and research now called economics.

Marx was one of the early founders of sociology and one of the first to write on economic sociology and political theory.

The scope of conventional economics excludes sociology and economic sociology, as well as political theory, although many of the assumptions of conventional economics presume a particular view of sociology, economic sociology and political theory that are hidden assumptions. This gives conventional economics a cognitive-affective bias. 

In science, such biases are corrected through empirical testing. This is not the case with conventional economics. Now that inequality is rising to obscene levels it is obvious to any with a working brain that something is radically wrong. 

Marx provided an explanation in terms of what he observed in his day, which he recognized as historical. Since the historical dialectic is dynamic, one would expect that conditions would change over time. So while it may be possible and even easy to point out where Marx "got it wrong" in terms of conditions now, the inquiry should focus on aspects of the dialectic that Marx identified that may be relevant to contemporary conditions. 

Marx's class-based approach to economic sociology and political theory is still considered relevant in those fields. A good example is C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (PDF download).


Konrad said...

QUOTE FROM THE ARTICLE: “It’s silly when Marx describes economic interactions as if they were a Gothic horror story. Contrary to Marx, our economies worries are don't arise because money is our master and jobs are enslavement. Instead, it's all just tradeoffs, just reality, just various aspects of the human condition. We should all know enough history to have an idea of what ‘masters’ and ‘enslavement really mean, and working at US job in 2018 doesn't qualify.”

I propose that the above writer does not understand Marx, and does not understand the concept of slavery.

I propose that enslavement is a mental condition, and that Marx was trying to describe the mechanisms of this mental condition as it occurs in workers.

No matter how badly you are abused, exploited, and forced to work against your will, you do not truly become a slave until you choose to believe your tormentors’ lies, and thereby surrender your mind to your master. You become grateful for your tormentor. This is slavery. It is a mental condition. It is a kind of Stockholm syndrome.

Malcolm X described "field negroes" and "house negroes." Field negroes were forced to work on plantations, but house negroes were the actual slaves, since they were grateful for their masters. House negroes cared more about their master's welfare than their own welfare. House negroes had "given their souls to Satan," so to speak.

In clumsy fashion, Marx was trying to describe how workers choose to adopt this mental condition, and thereby act and vote against their own interests. Marx was trying to describe why and how workers choose to be slaves. For example, the capitalist owner throws some scraps to his slaves, who use the scraps to buy food, and therefore imagine that they are “free.”

Today’s American workers choose to believe the lies about socialism. They choose to believe the lie that the U.S. government runs on loans and on tax revenue, and is “bankrupt” and has a “debt crisis.” They choose to believe the lie that Medicare and Social Security benefits come from FICA tax revenues.

In short, average workers voluntarily choose to be slaves of the rich.

This is my interpretation of the Marx passage cited in the article.

Calgacus said...

Quite agreed, Konrad. The comparison to slavery is very useful, imho essential. Invaluable to clear away all the BS.

Timothy Taylor implicitly makes full employment assumptions that Marx did not make.
He ignores Keynes, disparaging savings (and the theory of interest as a reward for savings) and saying that enterprise, not savings is what builds great things.

"Capitalism is not built on misers and workaholics, and the US economy is not built on asceticism and self-denial (!) " He's right that that is not what they are built on, but that is not what Marx said - "Political economy, this science of wealth", this bad theory of capitalism and the US economy, still dominant in our time as in his, that fantasizes that way, and causes enormous destruction with its fantasies, economic sabotage which mirabile dictu always helps the haves and crush the have-nots.

DeLong "reading Karl Marx's Capital—something that, I am becoming convinced, should only be done by somebody with immunity to the mental virus—by a trained intellectual or social or economic historian, or by a trained neoclassical economist" implicitly, narrow-mindedly inverts the whole point of reading Marx.

Marx or Keynes wanted to create theories that contained neoclassical economics as limiting subtheories for special cases. Just the same way Einstein generalized Newton, not refuting him, but going beyond.