A Marxist economics editor on tv?

According to the UK’s Independent newspaper, ITV news’ new economics editor, Noreena Hertz, is some sort of Marxist, and this has caused a stir. There is some doubt about this, and she has herself denied it. But is it a problem to be even influenced by Marx in one’s thinking?

The piece linked to above contains some errors. It names economists Joan Robinson and Michal Kalecki, as well as Andrew Glyn, as Marxists. Robinson was influenced by Marx, as well as by Kalecki, but she was critical of the work of the former, and was far more a left-wing (or post) Keynesian. In her work, she favoured a reformed capitalism, somewhere between socialism and the free market, which she hoped would achieve material prosperity and social justice in society.

Kalecki was a major influence on the post-Keynesian tradition, and was again influenced by Marx, while Glyn was perhaps more of a socialist, but even he drew on the work of Kalecki and Keynes in his thinking.

The furore over Hertz’ appointment is whether the influence of Marxism will cloud her reporting, due to its ideology. But in my view, we cannot escape from ideology in social science, and those on both the left and the right should admit it.

Ideology is a set of ideas or beliefs about society, which tend to inform political or economic theory and policy. When one side criticises another for being ‘ideological’ they are usually trying to colour their opponent as extreme and lacking judgement. In doing so they often tend to lose sight of their own set of beliefs, which usually act on an unconscious level and presuppose the direction of their argument. We all have some sort of ideology. However, this is not to take the post-modern view that all beliefs are subjective and we are engaged in a continuous conversation or discourse with no apparent end. Material and social conditions, including the economic, surely have a strong influence on our consciousness and beliefs. With some study and reflection, these might be perceived at some level, and their nature and effects on particular actors, from the individual through to society at large, remain significant.

Marx held that his own ideas were scientific, while others’ were ideology and therefore either incomplete, biased or misconceived. I would not go this far. Marxism also has a set of beliefs about society: some may be useful, some wrongheaded, and some, in the wrong hands, dangerous. But this is surely true of any belief-system.

What remains important in the political, the social and the economic, on television as elsewhere, is the need to consciously reflect on our own and others’ beliefs about society, or we may well be carried along uncritically through life. Some humility also helps keep our feet on the ground and can prevent us from getting bogged down in lofty ideals, Marxist or otherwise.

There is in some ways no end to a sequence of human thoughts, and through the interaction of the material and social with the individual, we can end up believing all sorts of things about ourselves and the world that sometimes may not be helpful or healthy. But conscious critical reflection, as encouraged by the approach of Marx, is one thing that I would not want to discard when it comes to economics and politics.

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