How to tell when the loons are out

First, the current dominance of neoliberal, elitist ideology threatens to create a culturally totalitarian Orwellian society with no space for alternative conceptions.

They’ll be mentioning hegemonic relations next, if not class antagonism.

This closing down of the discussion of alternative analyses is exemplified by the revolt of economics students against being taught exclusively the (manifestly untenable) neoclassical orthodoxies, and their demands that alternative theories – those of Marx, Adam Smith and Keynes – should be included in their curriculums.

Snigger. Keynes most definitely is taught to them: I actually checked the curriculum for that. And Smith will be there of course: as the foundation of much of this neoliberalism. And why would Marx be taught in an economics course? A philosophy one, perhaps, a history of failed ideas certainly, but economics?

18 comments on “How to tell when the loons are out

  1. Marx was a highly perceptive commentator on the conditions of his time, and many of his analytical techniques remain useful today. He should be taught, although whether in economics or philosophy I leave to others.

  2. A ringing endorsement of TW’s subject when the students actually up close have no faith in it .Why should we trust the previous generation of Economists now in power? Are they not likely to be conformist incompetents cravenly accepting the not true?Don’t forget that the students have been rebelling since 2000 when a revolt against “autistic economics” started in the Sorbonne ,partly because of the predominance of maths and all those silly formulae .(And now Conrad Wolfram is attacking the teaching of maths itself !)
    If Adam Smith is going to be on curricula it should include his pioneering work on Land Value Tax. As about the only commentator who appreciates Smith and LVT, TW should be doing more to address the deliberate effacing of a large part of Smith’s contemporary significance.

  3. Smith’s theory of value was wrong, which caused Ricardo’s theory of value to be wrong, which caused George’s theory of value to be wrong, which led all of them to believe that the rental value of land is the marginal productivity of that land above subsistence, which led them all to wrongly believe that an LVT is a magic tax that can be taken without affecting the economy at all, all of which was shown to be wrong about 150 years ago, so no, probably not worth teaching that.

  4. I’m with H on Marx. Just got my copy of Das Kapital for this year’s light bedtime reading. From my reading around, he was quite perceptive about problems but the solution turned out to be wrong. Given that any serious economics course is going to be fairly heavy on the history of economic thought, I’d imagine Marx, having been a part of that history of thought and huge parts of the world having tried to implement his philosophy for the best part of the last century, is pretty much indispensable, even if you don’t make students read and critique the entire tome.

  5. Good grief! I find myself agreeing with Mr Reed’s first couple sentences. But then, I am inclined to think economics is a very good way of explaining what’s happened. When a chaotic system’s come to rest. But not very good at predicting where chaotic systems will come to rest. In anything but general terms & certainly not to the precision that’s often expected of it.
    So maybe include Marx as a warning against applied economics? Along with Keynes?

  6. You need to at least include Marx’s Labour Theory of Value. Together with a couple of trivial examples pointing out how wrong it is. Otherwise, some simpleton will discover Marx a little later, without adult supervision, and won’t realise that his economics is built on philosophy rather than reality.

  7. Depends on whether you need to teach Lamarck in order to teach Darwin. Marx is pretty much unique in having contributed absolutely nothing of merit to the discipline of economics, despite writing so much on the subject.

  8. Lamarck was definitely touched on in my undergraduate studies – he was wrong (more wrong than Newton was, for the physicists) but still an important stepping-stone on the way to Darwinism.

    Incidentally Darwin was wrong on the speed of evolution. The Victorians, not knowing about the nuclear stuff, tried to work out how old the sun was and came to a rather short answer because it couldn’t have been much more efficient than burning, say, coal, could it?

  9. Hmm, the way I heard it Darwin and the biologists got the timespan required pretty much right, which left the physicists puzzling over how the sun could be old enough. But they were working on energy from gravitational contraction, not coal burning, anyway.

  10. Some undergrad econ courses teach the Circuit of Capital, and Marxist notions of Crisis, for instance. Several techniques taught in introductory classes are inspired by Marx or Marxist economists – linear programming (which to be fair was separately developed in the West but used more actively by the Soviets in their planning) and input-output analysis (which as far as I understand didn’t really take off in the Eastern Bloc anywhere but is definitively Marxist in origin).

    There’s also the whole field of Marxian as opposed to Marxist economics (ie using some of his analytical framework but without adopting all his conclusions). There is modern work like Okishio’s theorem, for example, which I gather is taken as serious and respectable stuff even by non-Marxists.

    I’m sure Chris Dillow will be along shortly to defend the predictive power of the Labour Theory of Value…

  11. You could well be right, Ian. It’s a long time ago.

    The labour theory of value could presumably find some practical application in cases where the cost of capital employed is negligible – which accounts for rather a lot of what a lot of us, tapping away on laptops, do these days.

  12. @ ian b
    Agree that the original theories of land value ,particularly Ricardo’,s appear not up to much now, being too concerned with agricultural productivity and soil fertility in particular but rather than being made superfluous by industrialisation 150 years ago,LVT theories eventually came into their own when methods of demand stimulus simply put up land prices and created house price bubbles The simple from-here-on LVt made popular by the Mills, father and son, which simply measured land price increases over a set period and imposed a land tax on the increased value only, would stabilise house prices now ( as did the Schedule A of Income tax on domestic dwellings, another inelegant tax that worked). Although there are other ways of doing the same thing ,stabilising house prices and stopping the stupendous market failure of young families wasting so much disposable income on the inflated price of the land under their accommodation is something the Economics student should consider, being a bit relevant.

  13. Perhaps we should tax the proles on their labour value (as determined by a Central Committee) rather than the income it generates for them.

  14. JamesV – “Lamarck was definitely touched on in my undergraduate studies – he was wrong (more wrong than Newton was, for the physicists) but still an important stepping-stone on the way to Darwinism.”

    Stephen Jay Gould wrote an article once on how textbooks all have to cite the same long-dead controversies and use the same examples. The specific example he gave was Lamarck. Which has not been relevant to undergraduates for a century but every text book has to bring him up.

    “Incidentally Darwin was wrong on the speed of evolution. The Victorians, not knowing about the nuclear stuff, tried to work out how old the sun was and came to a rather short answer because it couldn’t have been much more efficient than burning, say, coal, could it?”

    One of Darwin’s close friends was Charles Lyell. Who argued that the world was much older than 300 million years old. He famously said that we cannot see any sign of the begining of the world and no sign of its end. The Victorians got many things wrong, but on this Darwin got it right. The world is old – and as he said, evolution is slow.

    You are probably thinking of Lord Kelvin. Who calculated how hot the Earth was based on the cooling of a Black Body. And how much energy came in from the sun. And so determined the Earth must be very young as if it was as old as Lyell said, it would have cooled to an ice cube by then. And hence that Darwin was wrong.

    I suppose they are both Victorians of a sort: Sir Charles Lyell, 1st Baronet, Kt FRS (14 November 1797 – 22 February 1875), William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, PRSE (/ˈkɛlvɪn/; 26 June 1824 – 17 December 1907).

  15. Until the Victorian era natural historians got on the case, the generally accepted age for the Earth was about 5,000 years. That number was obtained by counting back the generations in the Old Testament (e.g. Bishop of Ussher).

    Then Kelvin got on the case and his cooling curve came up with a range of 20-40 million years. That was better but it didn’t satisfy the geologists (my lot). I didn’t know about Lyell’s figure.

    The unknown unknown was heat being produced by radioactive decay.

  16. Hector Pascal – “Until the Victorian era natural historians got on the case, the generally accepted age for the Earth was about 5,000 years. That number was obtained by counting back the generations in the Old Testament (e.g. Bishop of Ussher).”

    Surely you mean among a small number of people associated with the Church of England. I doubt Ussher was popular anywhere else. Presumably everyone else had their own calculation.

    “Then Kelvin got on the case and his cooling curve came up with a range of 20-40 million years. That was better but it didn’t satisfy the geologists (my lot). I didn’t know about Lyell’s figure.”

    Actually I made a mistake – the quotation is not from Lyell, but from someone else he based his work on – James Hutton. His 1788 paper concludes; “The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,–no prospect of an end.”

    “The unknown unknown was heat being produced by radioactive decay.”

    It is an irony that Lord Kelvin should have missed it. But unfortunate that he should have denied it up to his death.

    Personally I always admire him for his early Global Warming Scare – he calculated that if the world kept burning coal at the rate it did, the world would run out of oxygen in 400 years.

    As for the speed of evolution, organisms can evolve very fast. European populations did because of the Black Death. In less than a century European populations lost a lot of people who did not have a beneficial mutation that provided protection against the disease. Those that had it survived and produced a lot more children. Europeans are still more likely to have that gene.

    Which brings us back to Stephen Jay Gould who used to argue that evolution proceeded by short sharp jumps followed by long periods of inactivity, aka Punctuated Equilibrium or Punk Eek to those who like it. Which is odd because he did not like the idea that evolution produced changes in a short time when otherwise applied to humans. Usually because it might suggest races had time to evolve distinct differences.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.