[Marxism] Michael Perelman's blog

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 27 15:40:07 MDT 2006

Comrades might want to check in on Michael Perelman's blog, which is being 
refined as new content is being added. Here's an excerpt from his 
intellectual biography at 

Although I earned a degree in agricultural economics from the University of 
California, Berkeley, I never could bring myself to accept the ideological 
framework of conventional economics. Early on I noticed that the 
agricultural system was consuming ten times more energy than it was 
producing in the form of edible food. I looked more deeply into the 
environmental, social, and economic costs of the current agricultural 
system. These investigations finally led to my first book, Farming for 
Profit in a Hungry World (1977). In this book, I showed how the 
profit-oriented agricultural system created hunger, pollution, serious 
public health consequences, and environmental disruption, while throwing 
millions of people off the land.

I also had a strong interest in the history of economic thought, which led 
me to look into the historical evolution of the agricultural system through 
the lens of the major representatives of classical political economy. These 
economists, who wrote during a period that ranged from the late 17th 
century through the middle of the 19th century, lavished praise on free and 
unfettered markets in their theoretical works. In their more 
policy-oriented writings — letters, diaries, and more policy-oriented works 
— they promoted the active use of the state to apply extra-market forces in 
the interest of capitalists to the detriment of others. In particular, I 
looked at the fairly universal call of these political economists to 
undermine relatively self-sufficient small farmers to transform them into 
wage workers. This study led me to write Classical Political Economy, 
Primitive Accumulation and the Social Division of Labor (1983).

A central theme of this book was the creation of a social division of labor 
— the partitioning of the economy into separate commodity producing units. 
I then began to look at what light Karl Marx could throw upon this subject. 
Reading Marx in this light made me realize that most of his readers missed 
what I considered to be very important to understanding his work. These 
researches led to my book, Karl Marx’s Crises Theories: Labor, Scarcity and 
Fictitious Capital (1987). I found that Marx sometimes wrote in order to 
influence contemporary political conditions. This aspect of his work led 
him write in such a way that seemed mislead later readers. Failing to see 
that element of Marx’s work, modern readers generally are inclined to read 
his writings as if they were timeless truths. For example, his famous 
articles on India argued that England was promoting progress in England, 
but Marx knew little about India at the time. Instead, he was trying to 
undercut the influence of Henry Carey at the New York Tribune, where Marx 
also wrote. I also found that scarcity was important to Marx, but he 
obscured this aspect of his work within the category of the organic 
composition of capital. Within this perspective, Marx’s crisis theory was 
far more sophisticated than many modern readers had realized. For Marx, 
subjective valuations caused market prices to violently oscillate. As 
investors became more optimistic, prices would rise in an irregular 
fashion, preventing prices from guiding the economy in an appropriate 
manner. Crises were required in order to set the economy right again, 
although the violence of the cure would eventually cause the system to 


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