Value Theory

Julio Huato juliohuato at SPAMhotmail.com
Tue Mar 6 08:13:13 MST 2001


Several posts before, Philip Ferguson <plf13 at it.canterbury.ac.nz> stated
that current economics -- as opposed to classical political economy -- is
sterile.  He then stated or implied that its critique can only produce
irrelevant results.

Seemingly, Phil bases his statement on the notion that (1) current economics
represents a radical discontinuity, both substantial and methodological,
with respect to classical political economy, (2) it is not an advanced form
of bourgeois thought, and (3) it does not raise deep, "uncomfortable"
questions about capitalist society.

Suppose that Phil is right about (1) -- that economics' subject matter and
method are alien to classical political economy. Still, the role modern
economic reasoning (with or without quotation marks) plays in the big and
small decisions made daily by capitalists, union leaders, and governments is
large enough to doubt the notion that economics is a low and irrelevant form
of bourgeois thought.

Rich capitalist societies devote a large and increasing amount of social
labor to conventional economic research.  A week or so ago, the Wall Street
Journal published an article about the high and unsatisfied demand for
highly trained economists in the US.  I wonder whether sociology and
cultural studies have such prominent roles in capitalist life (measured in
hard dollars, i.e., in social labor) as economics?  But even if they do, how
can economics be deeply, amply, and increasingly embedded in modern social
life and be deemed sterile?

Item 3 is not unquestionable either.  As a first approximation, let's
"define" current economics as whatever professional economists do.  Then,
even a superficial look at this immense body of empirical and theoretical
work suggests that no important aspect of social life has escaped the
scrutiny of current economics.

For good or ill, modern conventional economics analyzes the structure of
modern marriage and family, the nature of international poverty, the
dynamics of economic growth, the interaction with the environment, and every
other tiny aspect and institution in modern capitalist societies.  And their
results are influential, if we are to measure this by -- say -- their
routine incorporation into public policy-making.  Critical thinkers: Ignore
these theoretical and empirical Himalayas at your own risk.

Julio
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