archive: from Marx to marginalism and the cloud of mathematical ideology July 21st, 2017 •
Yesterday’s post on Marx’s theories is confusing to dedicated Marxists, and I hope my thinking wasn’t
misunderstood. We can apply a dialectic and defend Marx’s theories and there are many works that do this very well. We should therefore, of course, try to see the way those theories help us to expose capitalist ideology, and ready a clear, concise, and useful depiction of those theories. There are a lot of good renderings according to this approach.
But this approach has lost its thrust. Nonetheless, I didn’t mean to take this aspect of Marx’s work out of the discussion entirely. But having said that, and making a renewed place for Capital as a focus of study, for those inclined to do this, I should transmit the advice of many that foundations of Marx’s theories
are problematical, and tend to produce confusion. It is important to refrain from proposing something that people of tired of debating. A good example is the labor theory of value as a theory. Translate the labor theory of value back into prose, and its point is immediately clear, however fuzzy at the boundaries. There are a lot of marxist attempts really found this theory. Who knows. The debate over this started at once in the nineteenth century and has confused marxists ever since. After thirty years of study, this gem of confused thinking (ultimately that of Adam Smith), is beyond repair. Why not forget it? There is no real theory here. If there is then the cadre of marxists is at fault for not making it clear. Unfair, they have tried a hundred times and still we are in the same place. I am not unmindful of mathematics, and have studied a lot of it. Most math subjects, depending on the scale referred to, e.g.
‘calculus’, takes a student, say, around a year to master. Other things, different rates. But whatever the time line, the subject by and large allows study to converge to a logical whole that we grasp, as we derive the logical implications given by the powerful isomorphism of a math subject and a reality subject, i.e. the subjects of physics, etc…I once picked up a book on Tensor Analysis with a short intro to General Relativity. That’s supposed to be an impossibly hard subject. Not true. I’m no Hawking, and am at about an average range of ability here, but with some prior study on the order of several years. With a little vector analysis, the tensor stuff, then the physics angle (which is actually far more complicated) suddenly makes sense. The only thing hard was writing out the humungous tensor objects. One baby step into the GR zone. At first the math is hard, then it makes the overall field make sense. The result is stunning, if only a glimpse of a much vaster subject. A strange and beautiful version of the Pythagorean Theorem. The point is that physics subjects have a convergent quality of logical coherence. Your study, slow or fast, will in the end converge to a clear understanding. The reason we so enjoy real science.
There’s the problem. Economics doesn’t really induce this sense of coherence. I am suspicious. What’s going on here. I learned tensor analysis more easily than marginalist economics. So the issue is not Marx versus the capitalist economics, but the similar failures on both sides. The easy way to rescue Marx here is to state the thesis in plain language and skip the math. The strength of Marx is in his metatheoretical insight.
Whatever the case, the rough overall implication of those theories of Marx is enough, and effort needs to move briskly to the real issue: the problem of the new economics that came into existence just as Marx was finishing his work. If there were problems with the Adam Smith legacy, which Marx mostly inherits (getting blamed for Smith’s confusions), the sophistries of what came next have placed economic ideology beyond the reach of almost everyone, including experts in the subject whose
expertise I suspect is a sound and fury of parrots. Thus, the strange thing that happened is in the zone of marginalist economics, which brings a peculiar brand of calculus into the sphere of economics. Here again I have failed to grasp the nature of this theory. I have never taken a course here and suspect that pressure to pass exams and peer pressure is the only way ‘understanding’ might come. That or the pedigree of parrot. I didn’t figure that out myself, but remained baffled until reading some debriefing
‘exposes’ of the whole subject and realized why I was confused. Are these critiques the real answer? Hard to say. Why don’t so many experts suddenly snap out of this, and take a realistic stance here. Who is deluded here? The economist or the critic? Answer: no easy way to tell, because economics is not a science. It has no deep coherence. The math and the subject matter have no real isomorphic match. But if the subject is not a real science then the experts are likely to be unable to subject their views to reality checks. In fact, some very smart and clever people thought their way through the application of differentials to utility concepts. The cleverness is considerable, and the match of the two subjects is just enough to induce faith, if not understanding. Is this correct? It is not easy to tell. But I think the expose has finally started to take, and a group of economists have exposed the outlines of these problem theories.
So, the attempt of marxists to challenge this economics with that the theories of Marx don’t really succeed. They have capitalist ideology by the jugular vein, but then lose their advantage with a rival theory. But both are wrong, because Adam Smith was wrong, in some ways, from the start.
The issue here is that theories of economics are strangely deadly and delusive instruments that have obscured the functioning of economics system in favor of t hose who point to these theories to justify
‘the way things are’. That the whole game is based on a fraudulent science that smart scientists can’t expose is shocking.
If this is true then the math should be set aside, and the subject translated back into plain prose. And to never allow this group of phony experts to control the economic lives of those they exploit. Bullshit, buster, or revolution. Let’s get it straight: the uses of these theories connect with the demands, say, of austerity. It is almost impossible to sort out truth from error in this mess, because its direct application to exploitation is heavily concealed, and endures beyond the exposes.
Marx was really the first great expose of this type of effect, of mathematics, theory and ideology, which he could see in the earliest phases of economic theory, Smith to Ricardo. That expose was not the theory he later created, whose status is different.
Marginal economics is the perfect tool to dominate opinion. It is the only theory that can confuse people of high IQ, giving them a tool to dominate policy discussions, leaving the less intelligent average defenseless against bullshit.