Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Marx is Icky

As I've mentioned previously in discussing my recent forays into Marx and Marxian economics, I've found the work so helpful and to be of such great explanatory power that it seems to me that capitalists, simply in order to understand their own system better, would do well to be up on their Marx. But of course classical or neo-liberal economists are not capitalists, but apologists for capitalism, technicians who differ on only particulars, for all their claims to be scientific and empirical. For them as for so many of us, it seems clear, capitalism is simply the natural order of things. Though, as Harvey makes abundantly evident in his The Limits to Capital, there have been numerous bourgeois critiques of Marx and Marxian theory over the years, I get the sense that real liberal engagement with the work has long since dried up, as if merely touching Capital, let alone taking the ideas seriously enough to work through them, is tantamount to signing the forms for a re-education camp or personally approving of the evils of Stalin or Pol Pot.

Now via jane dark I learn of the news that Emmanuel Saez has been awarded the Clark medal, which apparently is of some importance in the world of economics. We are told by Economic Principals that "his most striking finding has been to confirm the widespread intuition that income inequality has been increasing". This is astonishing. That this is news, that is, worthy of an award in economics. As jane says, the rising inequality over the last 30+ years has been common knowledge for quite a long time. But of course, that it's common knowledge is not so damning on its own; after all, science is always somehow or finally validating what has been or ought to be (or once was) common knowledge, so nothing new there. However, as jane also points out, there have been numerous studies on this very topic over the last decade or so; it has been explored in incredible detail by researchers and economists on the left. But of course Marx is icky. What you have then is a purported science, which because of ideological blinders refuses to take notice of important work. Again, to close, jane puts it best:
The whole news event of this prize, then, is on par with granting the latest Fields medal for long division. What to make of this? Is the fact that the guild of professional economics doesn't know the extant scholarship relevant to their own field more shocking than the fact they are just reaching these easily reachable and socially fundamental conclusions out now? Or is the oddest element the hubris whereby knowledge can't be true — despite empirical evidence — until a guild member says it? In any case, welcome to reality, economists: you are making any attempt to take seriously your institutional field rather challenging.

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