Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Warsaw Ghetto is no More.


Warsaw, Poland (1943-1945):

Last deportations. [A]


Gesia Street in Warsaw after the war (1945). [B]

Gaza (2014):


Source


Image Credits:
[A] "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: 'Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs'. One of the most famous pictures of World War II." The photograph is in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.
[B] "Warsaw Ghetto area after the war. Picture taken from the ruins of Gesia 1 to the west. On the left ruins of Gesia 6/8 and Wolynskie Barracks" (1945). The photograph is in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Hayek, the Post-Keynesian Hero?


Well, well, well, well. Look who's being quoted with barely disguised approval by, of all people, internet Post-Keynesians: Friedrich A. Hayek! Surprise!

Hayek, it seems, was a bit of a Popperian. According to Hayek, Marxism was "irrefutable" (by which he presumably meant that it was not susceptible of empirical testing and falsification, as Eugen Böhm von Bawerk supposedly refuted Marxism on logical grounds in 1896), therefore -- unlike his own economics -- it was not scientific. In the strictest interpretation of Popper's empirical falsificationism (which required the empirical test to be experimental), I suppose Marxism perhaps could be exiled, together with Darwinism/natural selection to the netherworld of metaphysical research programs. Oh, dear!

(I may or may not -- who knows -- have more to say about this in the future.)

At any rate, the man said what he said. Fair enough.

Nevertheless, Herr Professor Doktor Hayek said other things, too. Let us hear one of them:



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Seriously now. Amusing as they are, don't let these Hayek vs Keynes exchanges fool you: both men knew well back then, as their modern epigones do now, who their real enemy was.

That goes a long way to explain those surprising bouts of admiration.

But, who is that monstrous enemy such learned and sophisticated gentlemen hate and fear so? Karl Marx, who's been dead for over 130 years?

I don't think so.

If you are a worker, maybe you should look in the mirror to see who that enemy is.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Joan Robinson and the LTV?


Joan Robinson, Lord Keynes' well-known disciple, is much revered among internet Post-Keynesians.

Here she explains the relationship between her teacher's economics and that of his predecessors (emphasis mine):
"Keynes turned the question [i.e. of exchange value] back again. He started thinking in Ricardo’s terms: output as a whole and why worry about a cup of tea? When you are thinking about output as a whole, relative prices come out in the wash  So Keynes began by getting money prices out of the way. Marshall’s cup of tea dissolved into thin air. But if you cannot use money, what unit of value do you take? A man hour of labour time. It is the most handy and sensible measure of value, so naturally you take it. You do not have to prove anything, you just do it." (link)
Oh my God! Did Robinson approve of Keynes' "metaphysical/mystical" disposition?

Robinson didn't mention Michael Jordan, either. But I can understand that: the guy wasn't around back then. Ditto for Nike shoes: they weren't all the rage.

But there's another problem: for some reason, neither Keynes, nor Robinson ever mentioned "symbolic positions in the inter-subjective network of desires". Not even a shadow of a suggestion on that.

Okay, maybe Hegel's Geist/the Force had to wait until the 21st century for that: the two ancient ones were not as bright as our contemporary PoMo/Poke fans and Roth's Kojève's Hegel. That's why the "absence of a presence"  is, well, absent in their thought: they left it out of economics because they were old and dumb.

However, our most (selectively) forgiving internet PoMo/PoKe/radical subjectivists keep revering them …

Anyway, all that can be explained, then: Keynes and Robinson, like Marxists, were crappy Hegelians (that must be Marx's fault, somehow).

But, there's something I still can't understand: why on earth didn't Robinson even mention Nietzsche's anti-value theory of value?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Marxism for Beginners: Wikipedia?


So, you want to learn about Marxism, but you don't have much time or money. I bet the first option crossing your mind is Wikipedia. Yes?

Well, I'm not sure that's such a good idea.

You probably know that Wikipedia is entirely edited by its own volunteer community. To you and to me, lefties that we are, this sounds like a good initiative, right?

And it is … mostly. It has a downside, though: anyone can join the self-managed Wikipedia community, even people not knowledgeable about the subjects they edit; even unscrupulous people with their own agendas which they intend to advance through Wikipedia.

It happens. With reason or without it -- I am in no position to judge -- people have attempted defamation lawsuits against Wikipedia; if you believe the information provided by … Wikipedia (these two Google searches largely returned Wikipedia hits), those claimants generally lost their cases.

Don't get me wrong: I am neither implying that Wikipedia should have lost, nor am I speaking here of defamation; I am speaking of something more subtle. So, instead of speaking generalities, let's see what I mean. The screenshot below was taken today (3:18PM, Wednesday, 23 July 2014 EST):

Right-click to open in a separate tab.

That's section 11, "Post-Keynesian criticisms", of the Wikipedia entry "Criticisms of the labour theory of value" (the URL is visible, link).

Two citations support that section: Joan Robinson is the author of one, Philip Pilkington, the up-and-coming young Post-Keynesian, wrote the other (with a few changes, essentially the same content appears on another entry).

Joan Robinson needs little introduction (go ahead, I know you want to do it). I think she is wrong in her evaluation, but that's me. At any rate, she was a well-known and respected economist; her books still influence people, and for all those reasons, her opinion, even if questionable, has value as citation.

At the other hand, over the years Philip Pilkington has claimed to be many things (a non-exhaustive list: "London-based economist and member of the Political Economy Research Group at Kingston University", here; "writer and research assistant at Kingston University in London", here; "writer and journalist based in Dublin", here), but, apart from op-eds, I am yet to see evidence supporting his claims.

Be that as it may: absence of evidence is no evidence of absence. But even granting his claims, on his word alone, one thing is clear: he is hardly in the same league as Robinson.

Judging by credentials, then, one must conclude that the Wikipedia editor responsible for those changes, by placing Robinson and Pilkington in the same bag, reveals either a curiously overinflated opinion of Pilkington, or an awfully poor opinion of Robinson.

But let's not judge only on the basis of credentials. Let's evaluate Pilkington's post: the citation to his work takes you to his personal blog. Skim the post if you have to, but check his comments.

In my opinion, the post is outrageously defective and I have made it abundantly clear before. But it's your opinion that matters now, so judge the quality of that Wikipedia entry by yourself on the grounds of Pilkington's academic credentials, and of the scholarly quality and neutrality of point of view of his citation (remember: neutrality of point of view was supposed to be an official Wikipedia policy).
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While, in my opinion, the editor responsible for that section did a shamelessly shit job, I am sure that most Wikipedia editors take their task seriously.

While some Wikipedia entries are unabashedly crap, it would be unfair to claim that all of Wikipedia is crap. Probably most of it is quite valuable.

The thing is you don't really know on which side of the line the information you are reading is until you perform an exercise similar to the one I performed above at least with every citation. Unless, of course, you don't mind the risk of making a fool of yourself. Kinda sucks, eh?

That, if time-consuming, in limited amounts may even be valuable: it teaches you how economic theories really come to be accepted or rejected. That's how sausages are made, my friend. But it defeats the purpose, doesn't it? And it gets tiresome after a while.

So, if you want quick information on controversial subjects like Marxism, Wikipedia is a really poor choice: any crank could have a go at it. And some of them actually do. As a collection of links it still works well, but that's the best I can say. On other subjects it's surely better. (Here is a much more glowing review, which nonetheless makes the same point: "We found that Wikipedia was better at discussing hard-known facts, but poor at discussing controversial issues.")

And if you are a reader with a complain, well, forget about it.

As a member of the friendly Wikipedia Volunteer Response Team told me in no uncertain terms when, asking for his intervention as impartial arbiter, I complained about that entry and told him I'd never again donate to Wikipedia and would not hide my dissatisfaction:
"Do as you must do, but the fact remains that Wikipedia is neither a peer-reviewed journal nor a traditional encyclopedia governed by an editorial board."
As my complain was as appreciated and effective as my admittedly poor donations seem to be needed, I may as well save my money. So, there's a silver lining! Besides that, that statement sums things up pretty well.

Now, dear readers, it's your call. Do as you must.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Does Wray Accept the Labour Theory of Value?

Well, I don't know if things have changed for L. Randall Wray (professor of Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Research Director of the Center for Full Employment and Price Stability, and Senior Scholar at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College), but back in 1999 (my emphasis):

"Abstract:     
"This paper extends earlier work (Wray 1991; see also Wray 1992b) that argued that liquidity preference theory should be interpreted as a theory of value. Here I will argue that two theories of value are needed for analysis of a monetary production economy: the labor theory of value and the liquidity preference theory of value. Both Keynes and Marx were trying to develop a monetary theory of production; Marx, of course, adopted a labor theory of value in his analysis, and it was previously argued that Keynes adopted a liquidity preference theory in his. A monetary theory of production should adopt both, however, and I will argue that Keynes seems to have recognized this. Further, Keynes did adopt labor hours as the measure of value and said he agreed that labor produces all value. I admit it is still a leap to claim that Keynes accepted both theories of value. Instead, I argue he should have adopted both and will show that this is consistent with the purposes of the General Theory."

From "Theories of Value and the Monetary Theory of Production", January 1999. Levy Economics Institute Working Paper No. 26.
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=150497

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For once, I feel no need to add anything.

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UPDATE:

I had completely forgotten this post by Peter Cooper:

Melting Some Marx Into MMT (March 14, 2013)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Veblen on Marx and his Followers.


"I'll be honest: I hate discussing Marx, dialectical materialism and the Labour Theory of Value (hereafter: LTV). Why? Because … they [i.e. Marxists] don't have enough grounding to have a discussion as they've only really read their side of the debate." (Philip Pilkington, link; my emphasis)

Part iii of my ongoing series, Pilkington and the End of History (parts i, and ii)

Thorstein Veblen. [A]
Philip Pilkington recently mentioned Thorstein Veblen, the American institutional economist, in connection with Karl Marx's LTV.

In spite of sharing a number of ideas with Marx, Veblen was a critic of Marxism. Chiefly among the differences, Veblen proposed, somewhat vaguely, what one could call a "Darwinian" or "evolutionist" materialism, against the historical materialism Marx adopted.

In the article below, Veblen casts a critical eye on Marx (the second part of the article focuses on "his followers"), thus joining Pilkington's own side of the debate: the side Pilkington demands Marxists to read.

Well, your wish is my command. Let's read Veblen.

The article's first sentence (see below) is quite attention-catching and perhaps crude critics should see it as a general red flag (pun intended) left by Veblen for their benefit. A little later on, Veblen repeats that warning almost to the letter. Judging by Marx's wannabe critics, however, the warning could not have been any more futile.

But the second sentence is more telling. It suggests that there's little chance that "Marx’s perversions of dialectical philosophy" introduced any bias on what "poor Uncle Hegel is saying", as Pilkington philosophically writes, if for no other reason because "the constituent elements of the system are neither novel nor iconoclastic".

Did Pilkington's scholarship reach that far into Veblen's writings? I don't know; presumably: he's the expert, right? Anyway, his complaint was that Marxists don't read the other side of the debate. He never said anything about himself not reading his own side of the debate.

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Incidentally, observe that Veblen mentions also the economist Eugen Böhm von Bawerk (another early and, unlike Veblen, extremely influential critic of Marx). To wit, to discuss the LTV in isolation (as Pilkington and other PoKe fans do"is as futile as a discussion of solids in terms of two dimensions".

But -- whoa! wait! -- let's be reasonable! That's advanced reading: the second sentence in the second paragraph 


The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His Followers. Part 1.

"The system of doctrines worked out by Marx is characterized by a certain boldness of conception and a great logical consistency. Taken in detail, the constituent elements of the system are neither novel nor iconoclastic, nor does Marx at any point claim to have discovered previously hidden facts or to have invented recondite formulations of facts already known; but the system as a whole has an air of originality and initiative such as is rarely met with among the sciences that deal with any phase of human culture. How much of this distinctive character the Marxian system owes to the personal traits of its creator is not easy to say, but what marks it off from all other systems of economic theory is not a matter of personal idiosyncrasy. It differs characteristically from all systems of theory that had preceded it, both in its premises and in its aims. The (hostile) critics of Marx have not sufficiently appreciated the radical character of his departure in both of these respects, and have, therefore, commonly lost themselves in a tangled scrutiny of supposedly abstruse details; whereas those writers who have been in sympathy with his teachings have too commonly been disciples bent on exegesis and on confirming their fellow-disciples in the faith.
"Except as a whole and except in the light of its postulates and aims, the Marxian system is not only not tenable, but it is not even intelligible. A discussion of a given isolated feature of the system (such as the theory of value) from the point of view of classical economics (such as that offered by Bohm-Bawerk) is as futile as a discussion of solids in terms of two dimensions." (Emphasis mine)

From The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 20, 1906. Marxists Internet Archive

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To finish this, I reproduce Veblen's admission nearing the end of the article:
"In all that has been said so far no recourse is had to the second and third volumes of Kapital. Nor is it necessary to resort to these two volumes for the general theory of socialism."
Someday I may go into Part 2 in more detail, but that was enough of Veblen's anti-Marxist criticism for the time being.

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ADDENDUM.

I was going to leave what follows for another opportunity, so readers with only a passing interest may just leave things at this.

Otherwise -- what the hell! -- read on.

The rest of the article contains some interesting points and some rather questionable assertions.

Among the interesting things, arguing against the underconsumptionist view of capitalist crises, which should lead "directly to the breakdown of the capitalistic system, and so by its own force will bring on the socialistic consummation", and much to the chagrin of underconsumptionist Marxists (often more sympathetic to Keynesianism), Veblen comes up with an unexpectedly Leninist turn:
"In Marx's theory, socialism is to come by way of a conscious class movement on the part of the propertyless laborers, who will act advisedly on their own interest and force the revolutionary movement for their own gain. But crises and depression will have a large share in bringing the laborers to a frame of mind suitable for such a move." (Emphasis added)
More orthodox Marxists would likely agree and thank Veblen and Pilkington, his talented student, for that endorsement.

At any rate, fellow workers and comrades, you've heard the man: wake up and get organized.


Image Credits:
[A] Thorstein Veblen. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. Source: Wikipedia.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Is the Force with Pilkington?


Light-hearted interlude and part ii of my ongoing series Pilkington and the End of History (part i).


“Central to the unfolding plot of Star Wars is a question and a mystery: what is the Force? ...
“Thanks to the background story,
[i.e. Darth] Vader's death-bed conversion to the acknowledgement of love is no artificial happy ending, but the outcome of what Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, at the conclusion of his Phenomenology of Spirit, calls 'the Calvary of Absolute Spirit'. All life goes through transformations in which what at first appears to be evil turns out to be good, while the good must be crucified, as Jesus was on Mount Calvary, in order that a higher good be achieved. This transformation of light into dark and dark into light is the pathway of Spirit --Hegel's philosophically probing conception of what George Lucas calls 'the Force'”. (Emphasis mine)

Taken from James M. Lawler's essay "The Force is with Us: Hegel's Philosophy of Spirit Strikes Back at the Empire" (pp 144-145), included in the 2005 volume "Star Wars and Philosophy", edited by Kevin S. Decker and Jason T. Eberl (USA: Open Court Publishing Company). Lawler is an Associate Professor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Buffalo/The State University of New York (link).

In that essay Lawler uses the Star Wars mythology to illustrate Hegel's philosophy. In spite of the unusual setting, it's quite instructive.

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I hate to be the one to break it to you, Philip, but Hegel's philosophy somehow doesn't seem like a sensible counter to Marx's. Baron Keynes did not bring balance to the Force and neither will you.

But that's just me; after all, you are the philosopher, right?

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Like millions of teenagers all over the world, I, too, watched Star Wars during the late 1970s/early 1980s. And, call me silly if you like, but I enjoyed it and its two sequels. I was a kid then. To the tell the truth, unlike many other Star Wars fans, I actually liked the much derided 3 prequels (and I no longer was a kid!).

Occasionally, I watch the movies and I still like them. So, age brought little improvement on my silliness.

My fanboy silliness, however, doesn't stop me from admitting something: Star Wars may be good fun and escapism, but it's not reality.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Pilkington: all Roads Lead to the End of History (i).


I recently commented on Philip Pilkington's "Marx, Hegel, the Labour Theory of Value and Human Desire". There, Pilkington expresses his understanding of Michael S. Roth's understanding of Alexandre Kojève's understanding of what G.W.F. Hegel really, really meant about value; Pilkington's "argument" seemingly being that Marx contradicts Hegel, therefore, Marx is wrong.

In this short series I consider that in more detail. This first post focuses on Hegel and Marx.

Being, as I am, unfamiliar with, and rather uninterested on, philosophy, I shall draw heavily on Peter Singer [*]. This may seem odd: Singer is neither a Marxist, nor uncritical of Marxism/Marx (and it shows). However, he doesn't seem a member of the hydrophobic anti-Marxist pack; this, plus the fact he writes concisely, in English, avoiding unnecessary philosophical jargon (which some use to convey faux authority) and nonsensical mumbo jumbo makes of his book (used as an official university textbook) a reasonable choice.

So, Singer may not be the ideal philosopher for the task, but at least we know he is a philosopher…

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Hegel, the first step in Pilkington's philosophical rumba, is well-known: an idealist philosopher, like Plato, who theorized about history.

Singer refers to Hegel in relation to Marx's thought; his account makes Hegel sound definitely mystical.

Hegel started by positing the existence of a "Geist":
"The German word for 'Mind' is sometimes translated as 'Spirit'. Hegel uses it to refer to the spiritual side of the universe, which appears in his writings as a kind of universal mind. My mind, your mind, and the minds of every other conscious being are particular, limited manifestations of this universal mind. There has been a good deal of debate about whether this universal mind is intended to be God or whether Hegel was, in pantheistic fashion, identifying God with the world as a whole." (p 17)
Be that as it may. From those lofty assumptions Hegel concluded that, after the 1806 Battle of Jena, the aristocratic Prussian State became the peak of human development. This had a down-to-earth political implication: there was no alternative to the Prussian State. History had ended, so to speak.

A series of German philosophers (so-called Young, or Left, Hegelians), including Bruno Bauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx (among the younger Young Hegelians), and others, set out to use Hegel's dialectic method against his mystical conclusions: History, they wanted to show, had not ended.

Singer:
"The transformation of Hegel's method into a weapon against religion was carried through most thoroughly by another radical Hegelian, Ludwig Feuerbach …" (p. 23)
Feuerbach did not stop there:
"Feuerbach's later works went beyond the criticism of religion to the criticism of Hegelian philosophy itself …
"Hegel and other German philosophers of the idealist school began from such conceptions as Spirit, Mind, God, the Absolute, the Infinite, and so on, treating these as ultimately real, and regarding ordinary humans and animals, tables, sticks and stones, and the rest of the finite, material world as a limited, imperfect expression of the spiritual world. Feuerbach again reversed this, insisting that philosophy must begin with the finite, material world. Thought does not precede existence, existence precedes thought.
"So Feuerbach put at the centre of his philosophy neither God nor thought, but man."
(p. 24)
In other words, materialist Hegelianism involved as much Feuerbach (and other Young Hegelians) as Marx. All of them "stood Hegel on his head": to Hegel's "historical mysticism" they opposed their "historical materialism". And they did so deliberately, too; for reasons that, to me (and I may be biased), sound pretty good.

That, apparently, is Pilkington's "gotcha" moment: Marx did contradict Hegel (the original one). Surely he also contradicted Pilkington's understanding of Roth's understanding of Kojève's understanding of what Hegel really, really meant (i.e. something, something, desire)?

What I don't quite understand is how that makes Marx wrong?

At any rate, to focus on Marx, forgetting Feuerbach and the other Young Hegelians, it's not only unfair to these other authors, but also symptomatic of a complex mix of ignorance, intellectual dishonesty and pathological obsession.

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Next, Singer shifts to Marx:
"In his brief spell as editor of the Rhenish Gazette, Marx had descended from the rarefied air of Hegelian philosophy to more practical issues like censorship, divorce, a Prussian law prohibiting the gathering of dead timber from forests, and the economic distress of Moselle wine-growers." (pp 24-25)
For Marx, unlike Feuerbach and Bauer, religion wasn't alienating, per se; the economy, where religion was embedded, made it alienating: "It's the economy, stupid".

Singer uses a sort of Feuerbach/Marx "translation key": Feuerbach says "God" or "religion", Marx says "money" (p. 27); then he points to this passage from Marx's 1843 essay "On the Jewish Question":
"Money is the universal, self-constituted value of all things. Hence it has robbed the whole world, the human world as well as nature, of its proper value. Money is the alienated essence of man's labour and life, and this alien essence dominates him as he worships it."
Drawing on his experiences as an ethnic Jew, Marx observed that in European history, the role of money-lender, banker, financier (hence, the "money" reference) had long been reserved for Jews, contributing to shape their identity. To liberate Jews from that stereotype it was necessary to break that nexus. Marx generalized from this to society as a whole.

Commenting on Marx's passage above, Singer writes:
"The final sentence points the way forward [i.e. for Marx]. First the Young Hegelians, including Bauer and Feuerbach, see religion as the alienated human essence, and seek to end this alienation by their critical studies of Christianity. Then Feuerbach goes beyond religion, arguing that any philosophy which concentrates on the mental rather than the material side of human nature is a form of alienation. Now Marx insists that it is neither religion nor philosophy, but money that is the barrier to human freedom. The obvious next step is a critical study of economics." (p. 27)
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This account only scratches the surface of Marx's historical materialism (BTW, "dialectical materialism", which Pilkington used, apparently as a synonym, is a different thing, developed after Marx's death. But -- shush! -- don't tell him: he bites). Still, it's useful for my purposes.

For one, it makes clear that Marx's historical materialism focuses on facts, as opposed to metaphysical speculation and moralizing. You would think at least this would be welcomed by mainstream macroeconomists of all stripes (yes, I include at least one PoKe "economist" there), who take great pleasure on criticising Marxism: theirs, after all, is also a form of materialism, even if they don't realise it. Aren't they always talking about positive vs normative economics, hard data, evidence and such?

But if you thought that, you would be disappointed: with Marxism is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. In spite of their pragmatist/scientific rhetoric, mainstreamers denounce Marxism as metaphysical, while obtusely prattling about their unmeasurable utilities, "symbolic positions in the inter-subjective network of desires", just deserts, invisible hands, Walrasian auctioneers, confidence fairies…

Give me a break.

Notes:
[*] Singer, Peter. Marx, a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press: London. 2000.