Marxism and Mathematics

Mario Jose de Lima mjlima at
Sun Feb 4 07:50:08 MST 2001

Dear Landon

Could you pass me it full indication of this text?

Mário José de Lima

----- Original Message -----
From: John Landon <nemonemini at>
To: <marxism at>
Cc: <nemonemini at>
Sent: Sunday, February 04, 2001 3:47 AM
Subject: Marxism and Mathematics

> It is worth reading a work called *Against Mechanism*
> by Philip Mirowski on the subject of mathematical
> economics in general and the birth of marginalist
> economic modeling in particular. The basic mismatch of
> mathematics and content, in the imitation of physics
> models, is described bluntly. There is an interesting
> account of the great mathematician Poincare being
> shown one of the early models and complaining about
> the confusion of basic assumptions.
> The problem is that these models don't really model
> the subject they address. An exception are the
> descriptive studies of economic cycles which use
> different methods.
> If you remember a recent post on Kant's Third Antinomy
> you can see the reason why there is a problem: to
> create the model, it must be deterministic, you would
> want to use a differential equation, therefore you
> must make a determination of the mechanics of choice,
> and an elimination of any free action factor. But the
> very act of doing so creates something artificial.
> It's hard to believe it is that simple, but it is.
> None of the models really work (it is always dangerous
> to overgeneralize off course, it's a vast field, but
> never be intimidated by pages of arcane symbols), a
> point forgotten when mainstream economists pronounce
> against the 'labor theory value'. It is worth
> remembering that the Hayek people were always too
> cagey to take marginalist economics seriously.
> Modern social science tends to attract half-educated
> math whizzes who target a math chestnut and go off the
> deep end. The results never seem to amount to
> anything.
> Cf. also Robert Kuttner's Everything for Sale, for a
> humourous account of the way models and reality are
> always colliding.
> Read Cohen's How many people can the Earth Support, it
> is essentially the same effort to match an equation
> with a social science in a simplified example. It has
> a good history of demographics. That's the simplest
> case, the application of the exponential function to
> populations. That one has to work, it does work,  yet
> it doesn't work, the book shows how hard it is to make
> predictions.  Another useful work I know of is
> Economics and Utopia by Geoffrey Hodgson on the
> history of the socialist calculation debate. Marxists
> outsmarted themselves by taking marginalism a little
> too seriously, no doubt while the Hayekians had a good
> laugh.
> =====
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