Marxian Perspectives and Modern Political Economy

By Tarascio, Vincent J. | Atlantic Economic Journal, December 1989 | Go to article overview
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Marxian Perspectives and Modern Political Economy


Tarascio, Vincent J., Atlantic Economic Journal


Introduction

Central to any study of science is the matter of the inception and reception of ideas. Regarding the inception of ideas in economics, with the exception of a few historians of economic thought and even fewer writers in the sociology of knowledge, this area of research has generally been neglected by the economics profession. The reason for this neglect can be found in the profession's prevailing views regarding the reception of ideas.

One aspect of the reception of ideas is the study of the selection process by which theories are accepted or rejected. In this regard, the economics profession has been influenced by the philosophy of positivism. According to the cannons of positive empirical science, validity is truth, and the criteria for validation, and hence theory choice, rest on objective" standards of selection. In this way, subjective experience is "objectified." Once subjective experience is conceptualized and systematized in the form of theory, the theory stands apart from its originator and is to be judged solely on the basis of its validity. Therefore, inquiries into the inception of ideas are not the proper concern of science.

How simple the problem of knowledge would be if the practice of economic science were conducted according to the cannons of positive empirical science. Unfortunately, for many reasons which cannot be discussed in detail here, there is and always has been a contradiction between the prevailing positive philosophy of economic science and practice in that science.1 Suffice it to say that theory choice in economics is not exclusively the consequence of "objective" factors, but there is a subjective aspect to theory choice which exists at all levels of the choice process.

For instance, even in the case of specific research that appears in journal publications, the reviewers of manuscripts must make a judgment regarding significance, which is subjective in nature. Even after publication, all published material becomes part of a literature, but not necessarily part of a body of knowledge. Much of this published material is ignored, according to the readers' assessments of significance. This, in turn, involves considerations as to what influences readers' choices, and, as has been discussed elsewhere, many of these choices are not based on objective criteria.2

With respect to the broader realm of ideas, interpretation is crucial to understanding, and interpretive exercises are subjective by their very nature. Interpretations may vary not only among contemporaries but also intergenerationally with time as each generation sees new relevance in old ideas through its own differing perspective. In short, much of what constitutes theory choice and, more generally, the creation of economic knowledge involves an intellectual process rather than a (positive) scientific one. Given these facts of life for the discipline, it should be of no surprise that theories and ideas once in vogue should later be ignored, only to be rediscovered in light of new interpretations. 3

Take, for example, the vicissitudes of classical economics and the economics of Marx and Marxian economics during the post-World War II period. During the 1950's, professional interest among academic economists in these areas was largely confined to historians of economic thought. In the United States, the environment of the 1960s and early 1970s gave rise to "radical economics," a student movement which challenged establishment economics and economists. At first, radical economics was, in general, devoid of any particular paradigm, but later many members of this group found relevance in the work of Marx. This movement, at least in the beginning, was regarded by the profession as a rebellious child, who deserved to be listened to, but not taken seriously.

But rumbles began to be heard from the very mecca of Keynesianism, Cambridge University. When some of Keynes' disciples stated that the Keynesian revolution had been perverted by bastard Keynesianism, some leaders of the profession in the United States took heed.

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