Lisa's summaries of E.K.Hunt

Lisa Rogers eqwq.lrogers at
Tue Feb 13 14:02:00 MST 1996

I am enjoying this class on the 'history of economic thought' very
much.  I like it that it is taught and the text is written from a
left point of view [not just liberal].  I'm glad that I had read some
Marx beforehand, because all of this stuff is adding to my
understanding of Marx and current issues / debates.

All of these 'classical economists' and previous history were a big
part of what Marx was studying in the library as he was writing
Capital.  The language and concepts, the state of the debate of his
time was the context in which he was acting, responding, critiquing
and replying.  Like every other great thinker, Marx worked in no
vacuum, and did nothing entirely from scratch.

Also, Bentham, Say and Senior for instance had a line that is
essentially unchanged among conservatives to this day!  Exchange is
always voluntary, so both parties agree to it, so it always makes
them both happier, so markets always meet human wants, blah, blah,
blah.  Nothing new!  It's the same ol' same ol'.  

I'm not sure if it's necessarily true that the subjectivist
utilitarianists "presumed that each person is an  isolated
individual, not highly influenced by social context."  According to
Hunt, utility theorists thought that it was the division of labor [in
part] that both isolated people and required the market as a way to
relate people to each other, at least in terms of obtaining the
material means of life.  Yet they did also explicitly claim that
humans are by nature competitive and egoistic.

I expect that few if anybody claims either extreme, that people are
just completely malleable or that they are born already finished,
neither the blank slate nor a ball bearing.

The debates are all in the midst of that, as to which trait are
malleable, in what way, to what degree, etc.  I still see every
literal lifeform as an evolved and active being, seeking growth,
survival, reproduction, etc, among other things.  Developmental /
behavioral change during one's lifetime is a 'response' to material
circumstance, not a random response determined _only_ by the nature
of that environment, but likely an attempt at actively 'adaptive'

I'm curious, Chris, how _you_ would "*relate* the  utility of the
individual article to the sum total of all the labour-produced value
of society."  It probably didn't occur to the utilitarians to try to
do so.

They certainly fail to explain why people want different things at
the scale of difference that you describe, perhaps partly because
they did not even try to do so.  An essential feature of
utilitarianism is the claim that pleasures are _not_ co-measurable,
not comparable.  Hence, Bentham's aphorism, 'pushpin is as good as
poetry.'  [Pushpin was a popular working class parlor game, poetry an
occupation of the wealthy.]  

Bentham equated pleasure = preference = utility, so tea has great
utility to one who likes it and none to one who hates it.  He claimed
that in principle one could compare _quantities_ of pleasure, but in
reality of course this is impossible.  This is one of the reasons why
it is totally contradictory to claim that every exchange increases
utility / pleasure for both parties.  

The Utils claim that 'if it were not true, then the parties would not
have agreed to the exchange', but the obvious reply is that the
parties were not nec. equally "free" to refuse the "exchange",
especially when we are talking about "exchanging labor for wages"!!

But that's Hunt Ch.7, on Thompson and Hodgskin, anarcho / market /
socialists of the 1820's.

But Chris, what's your idea on why some people prefer peerages to tea

BTW, has anybody seen all three parts of Ch.6 summary yet?  I posted
part 3 twice already, but some posts still seem to be disappearing
into the cybervoid...


>>> Chris, London <100423.2040 at>  2/10/96, 02:03pm >>>
Hi Lisa,
I appreciated your summaries from EK Hunt, which brought out many
points. Including why they had some plausibility.

I just wanted to add - 

The psychology alleged by these writers as being inherent in human 
nature, of course presumed that each person is an  isolated
individual, not highly influenced by social context. 

Furthermore their concept of utility fails to *relate* the  utility
of the individual article to the sum total of all the labour-produced
value of society. 

So ironically it fails to explain why one bourgeois family would want
to drink in front of their friends a warm brown infusion  of leaves
from old Cathay in fine Wedgewood cups whose exteriors simultaneously
alluded elegantly to ancient Greece, while another bourgeois family
would want to buy a peerage. 

Chris B
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