Value Theory

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Wed Feb 28 16:00:57 MST 2001

Me earlier:
>>It would be quite difficult to develop a revolutionary analysis
>> of capitalist society today through a critique of economics because
>> economics itself is so limited and sterile;

>well,I am not an economist but I disagree with this. It all matters how
>you use economics, in a revolutionary or mainstream direction? This is
>the problem that faces every social science, not only economics. So
>economics does not _have to be_ sterile because it is not unique. We
>should resist the notion of idealizing the differences between economics
>and other social sciences. It is necessary to develop _political
>economy_, broadly speaking, in every science. thus, I don't see why
>economics should not benefit from this. That economics is inherently
>limited and sterile is a holistic assumption.

The problem is that political economy in Marx's time was the *most advanced
and most insightful* of the social sciences.  That was why Marx critiqued
political economy.  Marx, by the way, was not a political economist - he
was a critic of political economy.

Political economy had largely died off/been killed off, by the late 1800s.
Economics kind of replaced it, but economics doesn't deal with anywher
enear what political economy did.  So you can't really develop a critique
of capitalist society through a critique of economics.

That doesn't mean you can't make a critique of economics, just that it
wouldn't have anywhere near the scope and vlaue of Marx's critique of
political economy.  It's useful to make a critique of all social science.
In fact Robin Blackburn and others produced a good starting critique back
in the early 1970s, published by Penguin and, I reckon, still essential
reading for those of us working and/or studying in the academy.

But to make a similar critique today to the one made by Marx of political
economy you would have to find a social science that purports to analyse
society as a whole.  Economics doesn't make that claim.  In fact it has
become more and more intellectually banal and sterile, while more and more
technically complex.  Sociology does make such a claim.  So doing what Marx
did to political economy in the 1800s would, these days, probably mean a
critique of sociology.  To a certain extent cultural studies makes similar
claims and represents the most advanced bourgeois thinking too (which, I
guess, just goes to show how lightweight bourgeois thinking is these days).

One of the best little examples of this kind of critique I've read in
recent years is James Heartfield's 'Need and Desire in the Post-material
Economy', Sheffield Hallam University Press, 1998.


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