30 December 2011

Briefly on Epistomology (answer to a student's email)

The dialectic was not invented by Hegel but he did a lot to develop the idea. 

The Historical Materialism of Marx was based upon Hegel's dialectics (things influence each other). 
Overdetermination as used by Resnik and Wolff is a step further than Marx's historical materialism. 
Overdetermination is a complete rejection of rationalism and empiricism.  Under overdetermination there is no absolute truth.  Everything is relative and constituted by everything else.  Entry points can be picked to allow analysis and theories fall into order, but there is no standard of truth external to the knower. 

Overdetermination is not so much a way to discredit classical epistemology, but rather intended  to destroy it.
Overdetermination is a form of post-modern, aka, post-structuralist, aka, anti-determinist way of thinking about things.  There is a lot of examples of post-modern thought out there if you care to look. 

As it relates to our purposes, this kind of epistemology has the implication that the economy and class are entry points but not causes.  Traditional Marxism states that if you take away the private property and free markets of capitalism, it will cause other aspects of the society to become socialist/communist.  Under a post modern perspective society is far more complex, as is the road to communism. 

28 December 2011


Has been all consuming of my time over the past week.
I suppose ranking "customers" of the university to save their future employers time and money in the hiring process is a necessary part of my job.
One of life's little downers.

15 December 2011

The Factory of Bourgeois Ideology Production At Work

I took this picture last night at an Economics 103 (Introduction to Micro Economics) final exam at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

No where is it more clear to me than during a large lecture final exam how much our education system is designed to produce obedient and productive capitalist works.  People are expected to be faceless, and nameless, complete their assigned task and leave.  Any deviation from this will result in serious reprocussions, both from the overseers, as well as I would imagine discipline from the other faceless, nameless ones who are attempting to succeed within the system.

The goal is obviously different, a grade instead of a paycheck, but the mechanism certainly prepares the student for their future of being exploited and/or perpetuating exploitation of the working class. 

Regarding the teaching of micro economics by a bunch of Marxists:
This will be a future post, but I don't have an enormous problem with it.  If nothing else neoclassical theory is an important part of economic history.  My hope is that someday it will ONLY be taught as such.  For now, teaching it allows many who are attempting to subvert the theory to reproduce their labor power.  A contradiction certainly, but I can think of worse aspects of what the young Marxist scholar is asked to do on a day to day basis.

Finally, a shout out to Mark S.  The very serious gentleman patrolling the ranks in my photo.  Check out some of his writings here at The Cognitive Footprint. 

14 December 2011

Fun Fact

Sadam Hussien was given a key to the city of Detroit (In 1980)...
Not sure why I mention this today, sleep deprivation does odd things to the mind.

13 December 2011

Consumerism, Pizza and the Detroit Tigers.

Major League Baseball's winter meetings are concluded. 
What have my beloved Detroit Tigers done? 

They have signed Octavio Dotel....

That's right, not a damn thing.  Would someone please go buy some Little Caesar's Pizza

I personally can't stand the stuff, but Michael Ilitch's empire seems to be struggling.  At least one percent of the profit on that pizza will go to help the tigers (I think Ilitch actually stated something along that line back in the 80s, but I can't find the quote).

What good is capitalism if it can't even land the Tigers a decent #3 starting pitcher? 

08 December 2011

Online Marxism

Just a quick note:
UMass Amherst is running an online version of Economics 305 "Marxian Economics" both over the winter and also next summer with yours truly as the instructor.
This course is based upon (and still shows videos of) the course Steve Resnick has taught here for years.  I couldn't be more excited (except for the inherent limitations of the online format). 

02 December 2011

Monetization and Contradiction?

This Blog is Monetized Again (contains ads).
It will remain that way until I make enough to buy 1 case of decent wine (years I would imagine).  This is part experiment, and part consumer desire.   
So... I am Can-Am Marxist who likes French Wine.
An overdetermined preference from someone who chooses to define himself based upon his overdetermined career selection. 
At least today is Friday.

01 December 2011

You Wake Up One Morning and Realize the World had Gone to Hell

While drinking my morning tea I usually check the websites of 5 or 6 newspapers.  This is not a hard and fast 5 or 6, it depends on the nature of events taking place, my own mood, amount of time I have before leaving for work, etc.

This morning I happened to check the London Free Press website.  I don't check the Free Press more than once a week or so.  It is generally filled with articles pulled from the AP wire and poorly written crap about local politics.  The Free Press is a small paper from a city of 400 000 people or so in South Western Ontario.  I would imagine it is owned by one of the giant companies of media empire but I honestly don't care enough to look right now.  I am generally more interested in the local news from this paper as I grew up in London ON.  This morning, I happened across an article discussing how St. Thomas (a smaller city near London) should not buy Fords for their police department cruisers again if Ford does not increase their efforts to keep workers employed at the local assembly plant.

It is not the content of the article that caught my attention, rather, the implications of the truth claims made therein.  Apparently it is acceptable journalism to reprint what some random (at least to me) person writes on twitter as evidence for an argument.  How can I expect a higher standard from my students when it is acceptable for a professional writer with an editor?  This is just another example, the more a truth claim fits the dominant ideology, the less the masses will question it irrespective of how weak the source is (unless I am missing something about Twitter?).

28 November 2011

I Already Posted the Conclusion. By Posting the Intro I am hoping for force myself to take the body of this essay out of point form. Three more posts on this should follow soon.

An Essay on the Political Nature and Consequences of the Process of Teaching Economics:
Neoclassical Economics in the Classroom.

                  Many of us economists, whom are not bourgeois economists, will be called upon over the course of our careers to teach neoclassical economic theories.  In fact we are often called upon to teach entire courses based upon said theories.   There is no argument that these theories, their ideological underpinnings, and the politics and culture they support are the dominant theories and processes of modern American society.   The following arguments are especially pertinent to those of us in what are traditionally considered introductory economics, where neoclassical theories remain hegemonic in most presentations more so than “upper level” undergraduate courses where a brief survey suggests that slightly more pluralism exists.   This does not mean that the following is not relevant in all economics classrooms, just that it is the author’s opinion that there exists slightly more pluralism in the more advanced material.  In this essay I will argue that those of us who do not subscribe to the dominant views of society, and may wish to change said views, have not only an interest in, but an obligation to inform our students of the political processes that are taking place in the classroom. 
                   In my experience the teaching of radical economics is often constrained by the need find balance between favored (by the instructor) heterodox ideas and the need to do justice to students who will continue in mainstream economics educations.  Often even the most radical of economics educators will accept some mainstream institutions (such as textbooks that frame economics as apolitical) as given.  It is important that radical economics educators are self-aware of the political nature of our choice of the level of engagement with mainstream economics in the class room.   
The dialectical relationship between what is practiced in the classroom and what students accept as the field of economics during and after their education is something that many economics educators choose to ignore.  As radical economists we need to be aware that our choice of level of (dis)engagement with the mainstream in economics education has consequences both within, and outside of the future of our profession.  This essay is an attempt to bring to light some of these consequences by examining the institutions that we question, and the institutions that we take as given, both implicitly and explicitly when teaching economics. 
                  The essay has three main points.  The first section provides a critique of both accepted practice in mainstream teaching, and some of the perceived consequences when we fail as radical educators to engage against bourgeois society in the classroom, that is, pretend that teaching can be apolitical.   The second section discusses the teaching of bourgeois economics by asking the question; when called upon to do so, can we teach these theories, and acknowledge how important they have been in our society (both historically and presently) in a way that is clear, does the theory justice, and leaves the student open to critique?  The third section of this essay discusses choice around both content and pedagogy in the classroom for economics educators who are aware that there is a political aspect to the process of classroom teaching. 


Escapes us all at times. 

18 November 2011

10 November 2011

Dialectics and Politics in the Classroom

This is just a brief thought that is contained in the conclusion of an essay that I am writing at the moment:

Bourgeois economists have the luxury of being able to deceive their students, and in many cases themselves, into pretending that their theories and pedagogical choices are apolitical.   This mindless dissemination of mainstream political ideology in the classroom is both dishonest and harmful to students of college level economics.  
The choice of presenting a theory as apolitical; be it the theories of dominant bourgeois economics or otherwise,  is itself a political decision to continue to disseminate hegemonic ideology.   Economics does not exist in a world distinct from politics (and culture).  To pretend that the political realm of society in not shaping economic theory in the classroom and elsewhere is nothing short of insane.  Likewise it is not a leap to assume a dialectical relationship where economics classrooms are shaping political processes.  If the economic theory being presented in the classroom cannot help but to shape the politics of our students, those of us who prefer a politics different to that of the mainstream need to be much more careful in how we operate pedagogically than is the norm.   

07 November 2011

A Little More on Anti-Mankiw

As most people reading this will agree, production of bourgeois ideology in society is very well developed.  It is so well developed that its engineers can pretend that the machine of ideology production does not exist. 
Some, myself included, have argued that a critical blog lends credibility to the existence of the machine.  Upon further reflection I am starting to believe that anything (even the implied relevance brought by taking the time to critique) that makes people more aware of the propagation of dominant ideology in society could have very positive results.  I am hoping for the best!

Anti-Mankiw on Blogger is Born

A project long in the making....the brain child of economic historian Daniel MacDonald of UMass Amherst...Inspired by the epic rant in book form by Marc Linder (Anti-Samuelson)...The anti-Mankiw movement has moved to the blog-ishphere.  This project is essentially about alternative perspectives and criticisms to mainstream economic thought...about time it manifested blog form.  Congrats on the launch of the new project everyone!


12 October 2011

Brief Thoughts on the Occupy (99%) Movement

While standing on the fringe of a crowd today at the Occupy UMass rally I had a conversation with a veteran of the civil rights movement.

We talked about many things, notably, the fragmentation of the modern left.  He argued that the civil rights movement had as many goals and aims as it had individuals, just as the current occupy movement is being portrayed as having. 

I don't mean to conflate the great successes of the civil rights movement with what is still just a small amount of protestors.  That being said, if a week ago someone told me the occupy movement would still have life and be growing today I would probably not have believed it.  A fundamental change of this system is something that a lot of Obama voters were close to being open to.  Maybe a shift in the US really will take place.  I still think it is highly unlikely but that brings me to the most striking part of my conversation today...

I asked the gentleman to whom I was speaking what he remembered most vividly about being a member of the civil rights movement.  His response was "I remember being afraid".  I asked him if he was afraid of being jailed, or of violence, or something else.  His response was "I was afraid of being ignored.  If during a protest/sit-in, people had just looked at us and laughed and moved on, this man  would still be sitting at the back of the bus".

The broader point here is that acknowledgment (even if it was negative), from the powers that be helped give the civil rights movement legs during its early phases.  At this point I have to ask... have things gotten bad enough that the members of the 99% in the streets are ready to make themselves noticed by the ruling class?  There have been hundreds of arrests in various cities, and mainstream media coverage (here is an article from earlier today in the NYT).  According to reports from some of my colleges at UMass (thanks Dan), the local branches of Bank of America now have armed guards outside while open for business.  Is it possible that the ruling powers are taking notice?  And this will give strength to the occupy movement as my new friend claims happened half a century ago?

22 June 2011

Theft and Exploitation; brief thoughts

To state the obvious:
An employee who steals from a capitalist (be it product or money) is a criminal (has violated criminal law).
A capitalist who extracts surplus value from her employees is just a capitalist. 
Many of us do not see a great deal of difference between these two acts, society as a whole sees a large difference but many Marxists do not.
Even though both acts involve appropriating the property (labor power) of another to further one's own material well being, there is an important distinction beyond the obvious criminal aspects:

A capitalist who finds a way to further exploit labor is rewarded with more SV to appropriate and distribute (and ultimatly more profit), a furthering of the capitalist's own well being.

A worker who becomes increasingly successful in workplace theft certainly gains more as an individual, there is however another result as well.  Workers increasing their rate of theft from the capitalist will result in the capitalist having less SV.  A fall in surplus value for the capitalist may just result in a lowering of profit more likely if the worker is successful enough in their theft it will have some impact on the capitalist's ability to secure the conditions of existence of their enterprise (the most important use for SV for the capitalist), the worker's theft will force the capitalist to take action.
Again holding aside the criminal aspect of worker theft (or assuming the capitalist does not know about the theft, or at least does not know which worker(s) are stealing), the lower SV coming into the corporation will result in the capitalist needing to raise the rate of exploitation to continue to secure existence.  Assuming the firm in question needs a certain level of surplus to continue to operate a worker that is successful in stealing will result in the capitalist needing* to further exploit all workers.  Wages and benefits will be reduced, hours and intensity increased, etc.

This issue is more complex than I am presenting here, but the argument can be made that a capitalist stealing more labor power helps the capitalist, and a worker stealing back some of the surplus that has been taken from them does nothing more than cause the capitalist to further exploit the workers.  On all levels the system is set so that the worker just cannot win at this game.