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From Fetishism to ‘Shocked Disbelief ’: Economics, Dialectics and Value Theory

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Abstract The recent arrival of From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics by Fine and Milonakis is especially propitious given the context of the Great Recession of 2008 – and the associated decline of public faith in the verities of mainstream economics. Fine and Milonakis provide a magisterial critical survey of contemporary economics and demonstrate the need for a ‘new and truly interdisciplinary political economy’ capable of ‘incorporating the social and historical from the outset’. But their cause requires the explicit development of value analysis within the framework of dialectical social theory. This requires foregrounding the ways in which Marx’s categories in Capital are from the start historical precipitates that acknowledge their own inherent historicity.

1. Clement Douglas "‘Interview with Eugene Fama’" The Region 2007 November available at: < >.
2. Colletti Lucio From Rousseau to Lenin 1972 London New Left Books
3. Fine Ben , Milonakis Dimitris From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries between Economics and Other Social Sciences 2009 London Routledge
4. Fox Justin The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street 2009 New York HarperCollins
5. Greenspan Alan "‘Testimony to House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’" 2008 October 23 available at: < >.
6. Heilbroner Robert L. "‘Modern Economics as a Chapter in the History of Economic Thought’" History of Political Economy 1979 Vol 11 2 192 198
7. Krugman Paul "‘How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?’" New York Times Magazine 2009 September 6 available at: < >.
8. Maksakovsky Pavel Day Richard B. The Capitalist Cycle: An Essay on the Marxist Theory of the Cycle 2009 [1928] Chicago Haymarket Books Historical MaterialismBook Series
9. Marx Karl Fowkes Ben Capital 1976 [1867] Vol Volume 1 Harmondsworth Penguin Books
10. McNally David Political Economy and the Rise of Capitalism 1988 Berkeley University of California Press
11. McNally David Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique 1993 London Verso
12. Meek Ronald Studies in the Labour Theory of Value 1973 Second Edition London Lawrence and Wishart
13. Milonakis Dimitris , Fine Ben From Political Economy to Economics: Method, the Social and the Historical in the Evolution of Economic Theory 2009 London Routledge
14. Ollman Bertell Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society 1971 Cambridge Cambridge University Press
15. Smith Adam Campbell R.H. , Skinner A.S. The Wealth of Nations 1976 [1776] Vol Volume 1 Oxford Oxford University Press
16. Stockhammer Englebert "‘Financialisation and the Slowdown of Accumulation’" Cambridge Journal of Economics 2004 Vol 28 5 719 841
17. Zelizer Viviana A. "‘Beyond the Polemics on the Market: Establishing a Theoretical and Empirical Agenda’" Sociological Forum 1988 Vol 3 4 613 634
18. Zelizer Viviana A. The Social Meaning of Money: Pin Money, Paychecks, Poor Relief, and Other Currencies 1994 New York Basic Books
19. FN1 1. Greenspan 2008.
20. FN2 2. Fox 2009.
21. FN3 3. Fine and Milonakis 2009.
22. FN4 4. This is not to deny that it was in important respects a bourgeois science. It is to insist, however, that it sought to comprehensively explain, not merely apologise for, the actual socio-economic relations and dynamics of capitalist society.
23. FN5 5. It must be added, however, that the influence of the French Physiocrats was decisive for the theoretical structure of The Wealth of Nations. See McNally 1988, Chapter 5.
24. FN6 6. Smith 1976, Chapter 6.
25. FN7 7. Malthus must be excluded from this list as, while working within the class-analytic framework, he had an utterly eclectic account of value. On this point see McNally 1993, Chapter 3. On the history of labour theories of value, see Meek 1973.
26. FN8 8. See Marx 1976, pp. 173–6, nn. 33–5.
27. FN9 9. I call this a bad dialectic because it is one in which no productive synthesis/sublation is possible, merely the alternation between equally impoverished perspectives.
28. FN10 10. Heilbroner 1979, p. 196.
29. FN11 11. Key parts of this story are told in a valuable companion volume, Milonakis and Fine 2009.
30. FN12 12. Fama himself has differences with CAPM and its underlying assumptions (see Clement 2007). But these are differences among members of the same school and do not represent radically distinct economic perspectives.
31. FN13 13. This was the position taken by another Nobel Prize winner, Edward Prescott of the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank.
32. FN14 14. See Clement 2007.
33. FN15 15. Stockhammer 2004, p. 723.
34. FN16 16. Krugman 2009.
35. FN17 17. Fine and Milonakis 2009, Chapter 3.
36. FN18 18. As Fine and Milonakis rightly note (Fine and Milonakis 2009, Chapter 5), another route to broadening-out economic analysis came via the theory of the firm and economic responses to ‘transaction costs’.
37. FN19 19. Fine and Milonakis 2009, p. 82.
38. FN20 20. Zelizer 1988 and 1994.
39. FN21 21. Fine and Milonakis 2009, pp. 161, 162.
40. FN22 22. Fine and Milonakis 2009, pp. 162–3.
41. FN23 23. Fine and Milonakis 2009, p. 173.
42. FN24 24. Marx 1976, p. 167.
43. FN25 25. Milonakis and Fine 2009, pp. 59–60, very effectively make just this point.
44. FN26 26. Marx 1976, pp. 173–5, nn. 33–5. In the philosophical vocabulary familiar to Marx, this means interrogating the conditions of possibility of capitalism itself.
45. FN27 27. Marx 1976, p. 926.
46. FN28 28. The term ‘primitive accumulation’ is something of an unhelpful translation from the German ursprüngliche Akkumulation, which might more appropriately be rendered as primary or originary accumulation of capital.
47. FN29 29. Note that the logical derivation of richer concepts cannot be purely self-referential – and this is one aspect of Marx’s break from idealist dialectics – as the whole procedure is based on explicitly theorised historical premises, and must regularly refer back to these, as do Marx’s famous chapters on ‘The Working Day’, ‘Machinery and Modern Industry’, ‘Primitive Accumulation’, and so on.
48. FN30 30. Ollman 1971, p. 14.
49. FN31 31. It must be remembered that this critical account has a class, oppositional character – it is both science and revolution – and thus runs counter to dominant social interests (see Lucio Colletti, ‘Marxism: Science or Revolution?’, in Colletti 1972).
50. FN32 32. Ollman 1971, p. 17.
51. FN33 33 Maksakovsky 2009, pp. 45–6.

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Affiliations: 1: Department of Political Science, York University


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