Book Review: Wolff & Resnick, “Contending Economic Theories”

One of the core principles of scientific theory is that all theory is specific and limited in its domain. A theory which attempts to explain everything, explains nothing. Equally, the mere observation that ‘everything depends on everything else’ is, while undoubtedly true, useless for scientific inquiry – the virtue rests in identifying the specific and causal connections where possible, or at the very least a model or theory that can explain some subset of the totality of connections in a way that helps us solve problems. To point this out may seem banal, but Richard Wolff and Stephen Resnick would have done well to keep it in mind when writing their book, Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian. As the name implies, this is a work of comparative economic theory, presenting the elementary (say, undergraduate level) versions of each of the theories in a way that allows novices in economics to compare and contrast their methods and approaches.

Such a book is a great idea, as there is a real shortage of clear and accessible comparative material that gives an overview of the different theoretical conceptions and methodological justifications that exist in economics, both orthodox and heterodox – not least because the interaction between method and content is perhaps nowhere as important as in that discipline. Moreover, as Marxist economists of some recent popular renown – at least in the case of Richard Wolff, as Stephen Resnick sadly died earlier this year – you’d expect the authors’ heterodox view of economic theory to make such a comparison more fair and useful than it would be if undertaken by an orthodox neoclassical historian of economics. Continue reading “Book Review: Wolff & Resnick, “Contending Economic Theories””

Marxism and Distributionism

Whether it’s the Occupy movement in the US and elsewhere or the indignados in Spain, the Greek revolt against austerity or the British response to the depredations of the coalition government, one source of frustration for many socialist activists and intellectuals has been the inability of these movements to formulate a truly socialist demand. There have been many arguments about the economics of the crisis lately, and books from a left-wing viewpoint expounding the causes and tendencies of the crisis sell very well. There is no doubt that the current crisis, both in its scope and its severity, has undermined the dominance of neoclassical liberalist economics on the mindset of the public, and opened up the possibility for different economic theories and viewpoints to take hold. As Marx pointed out, theory too becomes a material force once it grips the masses; this goes for economic theory not in the last place. Continue reading “Marxism and Distributionism”