Apologizing for Capitalism

By Anderson, W. H. Locke | Monthly Review, March 1987 | Go to article overview

Apologizing for Capitalism


Anderson, W. H. Locke, Monthly Review


APOLOGIZING FOR CAPITALISM

Like most graduate programs that train economists for the academic mainstream, the one at the University of Michigan has a very rigid and abstract curriculum in the first year or two. Although students understand that they need to learn mathematics, statistics, and conventional economic theory to enter the profession, they cannot seem to see why their courses have no apparent bearing on the social problems that led many of them to study economics in the first place. Instead of changing the curriculum in response to student complaints, the faculty decided to set up a seminar on "the usefulness of economic theory" to teach their students how good their foul-tasting medicine really is.

Along with Tom Weisskopf and others, I teach Marxist political economy at Michigan. Although this field is not greatly admired by our colleagues, it attracts half a dozen good students every year , and so it is tolerated. In the hope of reaching out to students in other fields, I thought I ought to pull my oar in the "useful theory" seminar by showing them how useful abstract theory is for protecting the rich and powerful against the misguided jealousies of the poor and weak. Since my colleagues are ever on the lookout for ways to help the rich and powerful, they consented, although there was some hesitation until I pointed out the similarities between suppressing dissent and banning harmful but profitable substances from the market. The talk was well attended by an appreciative audience that left with renewed enthusiasm for its graduate work.

As objects of curiosity, although not of course as conversationalists, economists are among the most interesting intellectuals of bourgeois society. They present themselves as scientists and have many of the affectations of science, though they do not have the nerve to wear their cute little white coats in public. But for more than two centuries they have been dedicated producers of the legitimizing ideology of capitalism, its nerve gas for the home front. Of all the intellectuals whose perspective should provide a critical understanding of capitalism as a whole, economists are the most complacent.

At first glance, it seems puzzling that there are so many jokes about economists. Classicists probably know some jokes about themselves, but everyone knows jokes about economists. They depict self-important fools whose pronouncements are always either wrong or meaningless, and have a lot in common with ethnic jokes. But unlike ethnic jokes, economist jokes are partly expressions of envy, ways in which other intellectuals can vent in seeming good humor their anger at the high salaries, public notice, and political power of their worldly colleagues.

There are two rather different reasons for the success of economists. First, they have an extensive array of practical, empirical skills, useful in business administration and statecraft, and therefore valued by the bourgeoisie and officials of the state. When they work within the limits of these skills, their pronouncements are neither wrong nor empty. This makes them good at important jobs outside the universities and at university administration. It is one reason why they are well paid, influential, and newsworthy. The President has a Council of Economic Advisers by law. If he also has a psychological adviser, that is a shameful secret, and it is doubtful that he consults classicists at all.

But economists also send much of their time creating ideological accounts of society, mainly of an apologetic sort. In doing this, they perform a role essential to the reproduction of the existing order. Curiously, the kinds of analysis economists use to defend capitalism are only distantly related to the practical skills they use in their other lines of work.

Most economists are salaried employees of universities, state agencies, and research institutes. This places them in the ideological stratum of what is often called "the new class. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Apologizing for Capitalism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.