20 June 2009

Moving Beyond Class

I am really fond of the argument (I know found in the Althusser chapter of New Departures, I am sure it is elsewhere) that overdetermination will become the epistemology of a communist society. That is empiricism (and to a lesser extent rationalism), but determinist epistemologies nonetheless, have been the epistemologies of capitalism and as we move beyond this phase of humanity a new epistemology, overdetermination, will become predominate in society.

Much of the economic analysis (in fact all of it?) that has been undertaken within the framework of overdetermination has been done using the entry point of class (ie the work of Resnick and Wolff and many of their students including myself). The argument "why class" has been made many times and I will not repeat it here except to say that the choice of class as an entry point makes good sense within the Marxian tradition given the goals of our theories.

As we move beyond capitalism class will no longer be a useful entry point in the study of economic processes. Moving to a classless society will in fact render class fairly useless as an entry point for economic analysis.
The golden age of overdetermination in a classless society will have to find new entry points to study the economy, as an entry point of something that no longer exists will be both backwards and obsolete. The search for new entry points that logically make sense for economic analysis will be an important step moving forward.

Class will be regulated to the entry point that made sense under the system where the entire epistemology did not. It is only in moving beyond capitalism, and moving beyond modernism and humanism that overdetermination will have a chance to be fully utilized in society. Class as an entry point will have to die.


What constitutes a theory? Is it nothing more than a collection of statements? yes, then what? a collection of ideas? does an idea become more than a statement in certain discourses and not in others?
We have established that one theory can not be more true than another, that is a basic premise of something that is constituted by what it is not. Also it is commonly accepted that truth is theory specific. That is what is true under one theory may not be true under another.

This leads to a definition of a theory as a set of statements that establish truths, but what then makes one theory more true than another. To say that 2+2 = 5, I know it to be true! but does that make it more true than 2+2 = 4, which so many others know to be true. These single statements are not in and of themselves meaningful independent of their theories. But take then the two competing theories. 1. Standard Math. 2. Everything George Orwell wrote is correct. By the first 2+2=5 is nonsense, by the second it is truth. So what is the standard of truth of theories? Logic? Rationalism? ....of course not....broad social acceptance? This can not be truth as it would render Marxism a lie!

More importantly is truth meaningful in a postmodern world? What matters that I know 5? if discourse around it finds that it is a lie? what matters that we know Marx, when there is no discourse around Marxism?

Perhaps the Keynesians have it right! Perhaps all is fundamentally unknowable and we should hedge our bets! blah! and perhaps disco was real music and John Lennon got it wrong but I don't think so. Ah to not fall back into a meaningless phrase for a conclusion.....ah worlds with truth may be empty but they result in less sleepless nights.

17 June 2009

Letter to a Colleague

The following is part of a comment I posted on another blog, Imagining History, but is a topic I will return to in the future here so I wanted to post it.
I feel that those of us outside of mainstream economics spend to much time teaching things we have already rejected. Part of this is necessary to keep our paychecks but part of it we do so we can feel superior to close minded mainstream economists. At the introductory level I think we need to do more of teaching Marxism as what is "right", not as an alternative theory.

Start Letter:

I feel that in many heterodox economics classes that I have taken, my education has suffered because a lot of focus and time has been given to the mainstream. If I thought that a thorough understanding of mainstream economics was worth while for me, then I would take a mainstream class, or attend grad school in a mainstream department for than matter. The more time we spend trying to thoroughly understand the mainstream the less time there is to study alternatives.

As a teacher, you have the power to have studied and rejected the mainstream ahead of time, so your students do not need to take the time to struggle with this in their first semester of economic history. If you believe the heterodox perspective holds more merit then you should teach only that. Otherwise you are placing heterodox theory at a natural disadvantage because mainstream courses do not take the time to go beyond a bare mention of Marx, Keynes, Kafka, etc.

It is within your job, hell it is your duty as an instructor to teach your students what YOU feel is the best course you can offer on economic history, using the best methodological approach, from your point of view that is.

If this means not doing the mainstream justice, so that you can spend the limited time that you have with your students giving a more thorough (non rigorous)course in economic history from a heterodox perspective, I would encourage you to do so. Plurality has many benefits, but within the confines of a single semester, in an undergraduate course, I would think you are better off teaching history from the perspective that you prefer.

That is unless you want the course to be a methodological survey of economic histories....which would a fantastic course but....maybe not at the undergraduate level, and the university may question why you have an s on the end of the word history in your course description.

As non-mainstream economists, beyond a basic understanding of the mainstream, why study in depth something that we think is "wrong"? We have rejected the mainstream without learning its nuances, certainly learning the finer points within the any theory just makes its contradictions come even more to the surface? (To be fair this point is as true regarding Marxism as it is any other theory)

There are only so many hours in the day (even fewer for those of us who blog). I would encourage you to spend the few you have with your students teaching things that they cannot get from any cookie cutter text on economic history.