‘Marxist Economists’ and Simpleton Trolls
“The dominant political economy Marx engaged with in his critique was a very different beast.” —Mike Beggs
I have come to the conclusion that anyone calling themselves a “Marxist economist” can safely be dismissed as an idiot.
The very idea of defending historical materialism from bourgeois simpletons is offensive to me. The idea of setting Marx on par with ideologues like Samuelson and Keynes, as though Marx was interested in “the economy” is disturbing. There is nothing in Marx that can be said to even distantly resemble a description of “How the economy works”. Marxists are “Marxists” precisely because they suffer the delusion Marx was, in turn, an “economist”, a “sociologist”, or a “philosopher, depending on which field the person talking about him belongs.
Let me say one thing at the outset: to be rejected by an economics ragsheet is the highest compliment bourgeois society can pay to labor theory. You guys are idiots: when they reject your work, they are simply telling you what you should already know: “You are not one of us.” I find it hilarious they have to tell you this, since you obviously can’t figure it out for yourselves.
My most recent post precisely excoriates Kliman for telling Graeber, “That is not how capitalism works.” When Kliman should have grasped the unprecedented radical potential of Graeber’s agitation on hours of labor. You fuckers appear incapable of understanding why labor theory is different.
The argument Beggs makes, and against which the Northstar writer defends Marxism, opens with Brad DeLong chiding David Harvey.
“For DeLong, the essay is contentless waffle. It strings together economic concepts without making an economic argument. He would call it “intellectual masturbation,” except it “does not feel good at all.” Only in the eleventh paragraph does he find “the suggestion of a shadow of an argument.” Here Harvey argues that the U.S. stimulus package is bound to fail because the deficit needs to be financed by foreign powers, and the amount of Treasury bonds it will be able to sell to the likes of the Chinese central bank will not fund a big enough stimulus. DeLong responds that this is a question that requires a theory of the bond market and interest rates, which Harvey does not provide: ‘The question is thus not can government deficit spending be financed… the question is at what interest rate will financial markets finance that deficit spending.'”
Of course, Harvey was entirely wrong on this point, because he adopted the bourgeois viewpoint in his argument. For Harvey, the question posed by the stimulus was whether it could be financed; when actually the question posed was why it was necessary. Before the Great Depression recovery from a depression, no matter how deep, never required state stimulus. If history was simply the recurrence of events, as bourgeois economists tell us (“This time is never different”), why suddenly does a “recovery” now require such state intervention?
Harvey’s problem is not that he doesn’t have “a theory of the bond market and interest rates”; his problem is that he cannot explain the fascist state. Fascist state expenditures is never a matter of “financing” like someone buying a car, because the “financiers” of the state have no choice but to lend. The capital advanced to the fascist state must be advanced to it on pain of a severe and sudden devaluation of capital. The problem is not who will finance these sorts of expenditures, but who is able to absorb the superfluous capital. Labor theory does not seek to explain the interest rate at which the fascist state can finance its military, but to explain the emergence of the fascist state itself.
To be clear: the fascist state can finance its debt at just about whatever interest it wants, since, in any case, a great mass of superfluous money capital generated by the absolute overproduction of capital is always ready to be advanced to it. In this depression, the Federal Reserve Bank is holding policy interest rates near zero hoping to stimulate a so-called recovery, but the previous depression of the 1970s was ended by raising interest rates to nearly 20%. There is not one neoclassical economist who can explain how Volcker ended the last depression by raising, not lowering, interest rates. Not a fucking one. It flies in the face of all their stupid theories on prices, money and interest rates. The hilarious thing about this shit is “Marxist economists” can’t explain it either not because of ‘a refusal to engage with economics as it is’, but because they have adopted the neoclassical theory of prices, money and interest rates — so, by and large, they don’t even know there was a fucking depression in the 1970s.
DeLong knows exactly what Marx’s own opinion was on the problem he was trying to answer, because he searched in Marx’s works in 2010 and found none. DeLong spent a lot of time in 2010 going through Marx’s sock drawer trying to find a clue for how the fascist state could exit the crisis. He want us to believe Marxists have nothing to say that is new, yet he trolls Marxists writings trying to find an original argument for his preferred fascist state policies. After rummaging through Marx’s sock drawer trying to find an new argument for his old positions, he came up empty-handed. His response to finding out Marx believed crises could not be fixed by altering the character of money should be DeLong’s epitaph:
“Why he is opposed is really not clear to me…” —Brad Delong
But DeLong is not the only simpleton economist trolling Marxists for hints on how to fix capitalism. In 2007, as the clouds of the coming storm were already gathering on the horizon, David Bieri was trolling Marxists to find a solution to the so-called “transformation problem”. David Bieri is not just any economist; his CV is impressive:
“David studied economics at the London School of Economics and international finance at the University of Durham (UK). In 2006, he started his Ph.D. studies in SPIA.
From 1999 until 2006, David held various senior positions at the Bank for International Settlements, most recently as the Adviser to the General Manager and CEO. From 2002 to 2004, he held the position of Head of Business Development in which capacity he was responsible for new financial products and services and reserve management advisory for central banks. From 2004 to 2005, David worked as an economist in the BIS’ Monetary & Economics Department.
Prior to joining the BIS, David worked as a high-yield analyst at Banker’s Trust in London and in fixed-income syndication at UBS in Zurich.”
This guy is trolling Marxists for a solution to the transformation problem? He is peeking in the sock drawers of labor theorists? But I thought they decided Marx was just another 19th century thinker whose ideas have no relevance to modern problems of fascist state management. I thought they dismissed the transformation problem as evidence labor theory is internally inconsistent, as Kliman put it. Why in 2007 is an adviser to central banks all around the world market, reading Marxist material on how values transform into prices? According to neoclassical theory there is no such thing as value — i.e., no such thing a socially necessary labor time.
What do you think Bieri made of Kliman’s 2007 book on the transformation problem? Do you think he read it? Did he walk away from that reading with a better understanding of the Marx’s theory or not? How much of Kliman’s solution to the transformation problem figured in the formulation of fascist state policy? Really, there is no other reason for a bourgeois simpleton troll to read Marxist material than to figure out how to fuck the working class. So while they complain that Marxists, “need to ground everything in a 140-year-old text”, they bone up on Marxist literature because they hope Marxists can show them the way out of their crisis. They think Marxists are going to apply labor theory to today’s problems and find a window or door for capital to escape its fate.
They basically hope Marxists will show, based on labor theory, that there is no necessary limit on the labor time of the working class — and thus, no limit on the surplus value this labor time can produce. That is what Delong went looking for in Marx’s sock drawer. That is what Bieri went looking for on the transformation problem.
Are you going to tell me Marxists need to spend one minute defending labor theory against these trolls, these plagiarizers? Really? You fuckers are an embarrassment.
The problem Marxists have is not that they restate a 140 year old text, but that they restate it BADLY and introduce bourgeois revisions. I just love how this becomes matter of whether Marxists rely too heavily on Capital, since most Marxists would not recognize Das Kapital if it fell on them. Kliman, for instance, once asked me why it mattered how much gold the wages of a worker could buy. I just sat there and staring at his question at the screen. I was dumbfounded that a guy with his rep was so fucking clueless about a category as basic as money.
Before David Harvey wondered about how the fascist state will finance its debt, he should have wondering about why it was needed in the first place. Nowhere in Capital does Marx explain that the rate of expansion of capital is related to the ability of the state to borrow money. Harvey knows this — he has been teaching the goddamned text for 20 fucking years. And Kliman should realize if there were no contradiction between the price of a capitalistically produced commodity and its value, there would not be any crises — the contradiction is not in Marx’s theory, but capital itself. All the alleged contradiction in Marx’s theory does is lay bare the contradiction in capitalism that is driving it to collapse.
According to Beggs, there is a two fold project behind Capital as a critique of political economy:
“first to demonstrate the social preconditions that lie beneath the concepts of political economy, and especially their dependence on class relationships; and second, to demonstrate these social relations as historical, not eternal.”
Beggs makes the argument that Marxism seeks to “maintain the form and content of Capital as a complete, separate way to approach economics”. He argues that Marxism must “approach modern economics as we find it and ask the same kinds of critical questions”.
“These two strands of Marx’s thought are as valid as ever. The way to apply them today is not to maintain the form and content of Capital as a complete, separate way to approach economics, as if we are superior because we begin from superior principles. Instead, I think it is to approach modern economics as we find it and ask the same kinds of critical questions: what are the social conditions that make economic phenomena appear the way they do? It is to deal not only, not even mainly, with economic high theory, but also with the applied economics produced every day in the reports and statements of central banks, Treasuries, the IMF, etc., and ask, what are the implicit class relations here? Why are these the driving issues at this point in history? What are the deeper social contradictions lying behind them? The pursuit of a separate system of economics as something wholly other from mainstream economics isolates us from the political and ideological space where these things take place: better, instead, to fight from the inside, to make clear the social and political content of the categories.
A side effect is that we learn to think for ourselves again about how capitalism works, to be able to answer the kinds of question DeLong raised against Harvey, no longer lost without the appropriate quotation.
According to Beggs then, Marxism would pursue its “project” by dealing “with the applied economics produced every day in the reports and statements of central banks, Treasuries, the IMF, etc.” Beggs warns that if Marxism seeks to maintain “a separate system of economics”, it will remain isolated “from the political and ideological space where these things take place”.
“What things”, I thought to myself?
Well, obviously, “the applied economics produced every day in the reports and statements of central banks, Treasuries, the IMF, etc.”
In other words, Beggs wants Marxists to advise the fascist state on the policies it needs to pursue to function properly as manager of the national capital — i.e., as direct exploiter of the proletariat. A “side effect” of serving as economic advisers to the fascist state is “to be able to answer the kinds of question DeLong raised against Harvey”; namely, “what interest rate will financial markets finance that deficit spending” of the fascist state. This, apparently is Beggs own project for Marxists — advisers to the fascist state on interest rates at which it can fund its military to slaughter Afghans. If Marxists aren’t willing to “engage” the mainstream on such things, it will remain isolated “from the political and ideological space where these things take place”.
It is “better, instead, to fight from the inside, to make clear the social and political content of the categories.”
You have to wonder at the sort of personality who can detach “the applied economics produced every day in the reports and statements of central banks, Treasuries, the IMF, etc.” from the slaughter of entire nations. What sort of sociopath is this Professor Mike Beggs, exactly? But what is more ominous is the question his cavalier suggestion raises regarding what Marxism today has become. It is a cesspool, a swamp, a pool of odious shit where “Marxist economists” bathe on a daily basis. The argument Elmar Flatschart makes, that Marxists “exhibit a form of economism or structuralist blockist thinking that cannot explain the logical interrelatedness of different spheres of societal segmentation”, seems not only a proper verdict, but a final one as well.
How is it possible to raise the question of financing for the fascist state by the PBOC, without raising at the same time what is being fnanced? How can you carry on a discussion about this as if it hinges on “a theory of the bond market and interest rates”? The very idea that this filth is associated with Marx’s name, should be an embarrassment for evey communist.
But somehow, none of this appears in the response by Matthijs Krul to Mike Beggs detestable filth. Instead the place of Marx’s Capital is reduced to a question of the lack of warm welcome by the enemies of the working class to his theory. We are treated to a recitation of the slights inflicted by the paid defenders of capital against those who stand with the working class. Well, Matthijs. they are supposed to hate you, persecute you, and hound you out of the academy, if you are doing your job.
In response to Beggs, Krul offers his own defense of maintaining Marxism as a distinct school within economics:
“One could define Marxists in economics (and other scientific fields) as follows: Marxists are those who believe that Marx was mostly right about his approach and categories, and that this makes a difference.”
I was astonished to find this is the worry that keeps Krul up at night:
“One would not want to end up as the creationism of the social sciences, with a considerable support outside academe, but absolutely no legitimacy within it.”
This is a statement of someone who has absolutely no idea that Capital is not an economics textbook nor was it meant to be so. Capital has nothing to do with economics at all and cannot be translated into a set of economic arguments. It is a critique of economics that discloses the communist movement of society through the operation of the capitalist mode of production. It explains how the isolated producer is torn from her previous conditions of labor and thrust into a directly social cooperative society. It explains how the capitalist mode of production is, at the same time, a communist movement of society, how it creates the material conditions for communist society.