Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Rejoinder

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Rejoinder

Article excerpt

Ben Fine has two problems with my article. First, he claims I misrepresent "Marx' s analysis of consumption" and deny "the potential for a more fully developed Marxist theory of consumption." Second, he characterizes my argument as "arbitrary," "superficial," "casual," and claims that my analysis is "riddled with overgeneralization." So he doesn't like the message, and he doesn't like the way it is delivered.

The title -- "Consumption in Contemporary Capitalism: Beyond Marx and Veblen" -- may be a cause of the first problem, since I certainly promise more than I deliver. A more appropriate subtitle might be "Beyond the Conventional Radical Wisdom," for this was my intent, as I stated explicitly in the introduction. There are as many readings of Marx as there are Marxists, and I have no doubt that "a more fully developed Marxist theory of consumption" could be constructed from Rosdolsky's (or Fine's) reading of Marx. I did not intend to deny this, nor as far as I can tell, did I deny it.

Rather, I sought to evaluate what I asserted to be the conventional left wisdom on consumption, which I took to be a muddle of Veblen and Marx as filtered through Galbraith. Fine ignores this. I was interested in the kinds of debates over consumption that occur in the classroom, the media, or Congress concerning advertising on children's television shows or environmental deterioration and consumerism. My students have not read the Grundrisse or volume II of Capital. They have, in my opinion, internalized a mediated version of the conventional radical wisdom. I wanted to explore the sources of this wisdom and its limitation as critique. If Fine believes that this is not the conventional radical wisdom, then we have an argument. If he merely believes that Marx can be read differently, then we do not.

I would be the first to admit that this conventional left wisdom "can be employed for polemical and moral purposes." I have used the concept of basic needs both in the classroom and in testimony. I presume that conspicuous consumption and commodity fetishism could be similarly used. But I also find these concepts limiting, in that they preclude certain critiques which are, in my opinion, more fundamental and radical in this historical moment. It is worth stating the argument again, somewhat differently than in the original article, so that misinterpretation is less likely.

The fundamental insight of both Marxian and Institutional theories of consumption is that preferences are endogenous. …

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