Veblen and Sweezy on Monopoly Capital, Crises, Conflict, and the State

By O'Hara, Phillip Anthony; Sherman, Howard Jay | Journal of Economic Issues, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Veblen and Sweezy on Monopoly Capital, Crises, Conflict, and the State


O'Hara, Phillip Anthony, Sherman, Howard Jay, Journal of Economic Issues


In the 1960s and 1970s there was a revival of non-neoclassical political economy, or heterodox economics, in many nations which has continued to this day. Original institutionalists started their own organization, the Association for Evolutionary Economics (AFEE) in 1965, followed by the Journal of Economic Issues in 1967. Other radicals and Marxists organized the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) in 1968 and the Review of Radical Political Economics the following year. In many nations similar organizations and journals were instituted in the 1970s. Post Keynesians started to publish the Cambridge Journal of Economics in England and the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, inaugurated by Sidney Weintraub and Paul Davidson from the USA. The Association for Social Economics started to become more inclusive and participatory by including many heterodox themes in its Review of Social Economy. It wasn't until the late 1980s that the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy was formed and the early 1990s when feminists became active in organizing their own International Association for Feminist Economics along with their journal, Feminist Economics.

After thirty to forty years of growth, heterodox political economy has really come of age, since now there are more journals and publishers disseminating heterodox themes than one could have imagined in the 1960s. (1) Then in the 1990s a whole series of encyclopedias and companions were published, documenting the advances made since the 1960s, along with the seminal ideas of earlier writers. (2)

Furthermore, there is an organization committed to promoting the collective interests of some fifty heterodox or pluralistic associations: the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics (ICAPE). In 2003 ICAPE sponsored a conference at the University of Missouri to document the history and promote the future of heterodox economics. Also, a Conference on the History of Heterodox Economics in the Twentieth Century was held at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in October 2002. It is commonplace now for political economists to share perspectives from the different schools of thought, be they original institutionalists, Marxists, Post Keynesians, feminists, or social economists. Indeed, for a growing number of scholars the themes of political economy are becoming sufficiently well developed for them to eschew rigid schools in favor of an eclectic fusion of ideas.

This fusion of ideas among and between schools is becoming so common that journals are increasingly recognizing such links. The JEI has been publishing articles promoting linkages for a number of decades now, and some AFEE presidents have been radical institutionalists with an affinity to Marxist political economy. (3) Indeed, under the presidencies of William M. Dugger and James Ronald Stanfield, Paul M. Sweezy received the Veblen-Commons Award in 1999. This was the first time that a scholar of such Marxist credentials had ever won the award. (4) The purpose of this paper is to provide a detailed analysis of the relationship between Thorstein Veblen and Sweezy and how their concerns fare in the current environment. An understanding of this intellectual heritage is essential for the historical and contemporary concerns of the Veblen-Commons Award as well as for the continuing analysis of the relationship between Marxism, institutionalism, and other trends in heterodox economics. (5)

Veblen's "Critique" of Marxism

Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857-1929) is the father of institutional economics and a critical influence in the formation and development of AFEE. He established an indigenous branch of radical economics in the United States-institutionalism-and many argue he adapted certain Marxian themes to U.S. conditions (Hill 1998). He recognized the importance of contradictory processes, collective wealth, and interdisciplinary methods in a manner similar in many ways to the method of Karl Marx (Harris 1998). …

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