Thursday, October 27, 2011

thought of the day: radical economics and intro textbooks

Reflecting on yesterday's post, which had a quote that was admittedly out of context, I started thinking about how Mankiw treats neoclassical theory vis-a-vis other economic theories.

Of course we know that Mankiw intends to present the consensus view of the mainstream of the economics profession, which is (apparently) why he pretends not to be making any conscious decisions about what to include in his book. Rather, he can say that he doesn't mention radical economics because the mainstream no longer engages with radical economics.

But, my point yesterday is partly that we are taking this intention of presenting the consensus for granted. Samuelson, as it may or may not be evident from reading yesterday's quote, felt as though he needed to address Marx and Marxism on their own terms. He actively engaged with "the old man", pointing out what he thought were both the strengths and weaknesses of his ideas. And as one of my professors at UMass Econ (who is an MIT PhD) would tell us in class, Samuelson was always bringing up Marx in his graduate classes! You would walk in the room, hear this guy talking about Marx, and wonder where the hell you were. One certainly does not find that kind of active engagement with radical economics in graduate courses at the top schools today.

But, there's a flip side of the coin. At times, Samuelson fails to accurately portray Marxist ideas. Just as Mankiw sometimes glosses over core logical steps in neoclassical economics, so Samuelson did similarly with Marxism. And that kind of treatment may be as bad, if not worse, than not talking about him at all (a la Mankiw -- who does not mention Marx a single time in his intro book).

The question is, which is worse? No mention of Marx, or mention some things about him, get some things right, and some things wrong?

What do you think?

I tend to believe that some mention of Marx, even if it's not the best portrayal of his ideas, is the best option for effective pedagogy. And I would say, as a kind of meta-analysis of economics textbooks,  that there is something to be said about the evolution of bourgeois ideology that they do not even actively recognized the existence of this countervailing force in their intro textbooks.

The question I leave you with is the following: what does choice of reducing exposure to Marxist ideas imply about the state of bourgeois economics? From the perspective of instruments of bourgeois ideology (an extremely important point to keep in mind), have Marx's ideas become more politically relevant than they were in the 1960s, thus, the need for more forceful repression of them? (This could mean that class struggle has become more acute in society since the 1960s.)  Or have the instruments of bourgeois ideology simply found a more effective (efficient, whatever) means of dealing with radical theories? Are both ideas right?

What do you think?

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