Journeying through the world of economics: a personal note

2018 marks 24 years since I first took an interest in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘dismal science’. Not a particularly notable landmark, though it is more than half my life. And I certainly have not spent all that time with my nose in books about economics, although I have spent quite a bit of it like that, maybe more than is good for me.

Apparently it was the Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle who coined the phrase dismal science in the 19th century. I am sometimes inclined to agree, when observing a malfunctioning economy and its malfunctioning stewards in government and business. But more often I am prepared to be optimistic that we can find solutions to the problems of humanity. Some of them might even come from studying economics!

Keynes looked forward to a time when the economist’s role in society would be akin to that of dentists, as humble, competent fixers of minor problems. Notwithstanding a call from the UK’s current environment secretary during the campaign for Brexit to pay less attention to experts, economists and their ideological categories of supply, demand and growth have become extremely powerful and accepted, even if with passivity, resignation or incomprehension. Continue reading

Anwar Shaikh on Keynes and Classical economics (and much else)

A series of interesting short videos featuring Anwar Shaikh of the New School, an economist I greatly admire, where he discusses his influences and aspects of his life’s work.

His magnum opusCapitalism, was published last year, and I have written on parts of it several times on this blog.

For those who don’t want to go through them all, I can recommend as a taster video number nine (of eleven), ‘Keynes and Classical Economics’, where he discusses the links he makes between the ideas of Keynes on aggregate demand, and competition and profitability in the work of Marx and the Classical economists. To reach this, press play, then skip forward between videos using the player controls.

The circuit between material relations and ideas

Following my comments in yesterday’s post about the relationship between material relations and human consciousness, it is interesting to see Samuel Brittan mentioning these two factors in the opening paragraph of his article in today’s ft as potential drivers of social evolution or, as he puts it, what ‘governs’ the world. Specifically he asks whether ‘material interest in the form of class conflict, the latter driven by the state of technology’, or ‘ideas’ are the key factor. He says that Marx claimed the former were, while Keynes favoured the latter. Ideas are part of human consciousness, but if we take a circular view of the forces governing social evolution, the two theories need not be separate, as they are in Brittan’s piece, where he claims that either one or the other are right.

Putting the two together, as I mentioned yesterday, we can see that material forces and relations can determine human consciousness, which in turn can affect those material relations, in a circular fashion. In fact, I think that Marx, in suggesting that the force of men’s will can transform society, through revolution in his view, also points to his emphasis on continuous change, from the material to ideas or consciousness and back again, as society evolves. Capitalism need not lead to socialism as Marx claimed and hoped it would, but social evolution is a continuous process and society can be thought of as transforming in this way.