New IDEAS Working Paper on the alternative views of the collapse of Bretton Woods. From the abstract:Contrary to conventional views which suggest that the collapse of Bretton Woods represented the beginning of the end of the global hegemonic position of the dollar, the collapse of the system liberated American policy from convertibility to gold, and imposed a global fiat system still dominated by the floating dollar. The end of Bretton Woods and the set of regulations that imposed capital controls were part of the agenda of many powerful groups within the US, and led to the creation of a more dollarized world. The challenge to the dollar might arise, eventually, from the decline in the United States’power to determine the pricing of key commodities in global markets; but it is premature to think about the demise of the dollar. The limitations of the dominant views about Bretton Woods are ultimately tied to mainstream economics.
Thursday, July 29, 2021
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Each era gets its own version of Keynes. The post-war era got the sanitized biography by his disciple and friend Roy Harrod. It emphasized the somewhat late Victorian values of what he called the presuppositions of Harvey Road, Keynes’ birth place at Cambridge, representing the ethical principles that he received from his parents. Not only it avoided any discussion of Keynes' sexuality, that was verboten at that time, and not just because Keynes’ mother was still alive, but also it was well suited to the moderate Neoclassical Synthesis version of Keynesianism that came dominate American academia and the profession with its emphasis on wage rigidities and imperfections. Lord Robert Skidelsky famously argued that Harrod’s biography was “an exercise in covering up and planting false trails” (Skidelsky, 1983: xxv).
Skidelsky had the advantage of time, and his biography – the three volumes that came out after the publication of Keynes’ Collected Writings, one might add – was more direct and truthful about his subject. Yet, the biography was published between the 1980s and the early 2000s, the period in which the crisis of Keynesian economics was complete, and his ideas forgotten, or worse, as famously noted by Robert Lucas Jr., simply ridiculed. In many ways, Skidelsky’s biography, which broke new ground on the personal life of Keynes, was defensive and did not challenge the notion that his theory relied on imperfections.
Zachary D. Carter’s book is not quite a biography in the same way that the two cited above, or the one by Donald Moggridge, one of the co-editors of Keynes’ Collected Writings. There is little need for another detailed speculative analysis of the lesser known aspects of Keynes’ life and how these affected his economic views. Carter does something better. He provides a lively discussion of the rise and fall of Keynesian ideas, beginning with how Keynes’ developed his analytical framework, from his theoretical struggles of the 1920s, with some retrospective analysis of his previous life and work, to his premature death in 1946. He also discusses the apogee and the fall of Keynesian economics after Keynes’ death, and the rise to dominance of neoliberal ideas, at least until the last crisis. In that respect, the book has two parts. The first twelve chapters that discuss Keynes’ life and the intricate dance between economic policy debates and rapidly changing economic ideas that eventually propelled the Keynesian Revolution, and a second part from chapter thirteen to seventeen, where John Kenneth Galbraith and Joan Robinson pick up Keynes’ mantle as the proselytizers of the true Keynesian gospel. They battled not only with avowed neoliberals and anti-Keynesians like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, but also against the brand of Keynesianism that came to dominate academia, and the “greatest prophet of this ‘New Economics,’ as it would come to be known in the John F. Kennedy years, … Paul Samuelson” (p. 399).
Read rest here.
Friday, July 9, 2021
However, the classical analytical scheme did not assume full employment of labor or that the economic system was self-adjusted. Competition meant that market prices fluctuated around the natural prices, but those did not imply efficient allocation of resources. The notion that markets are self-adjusting with a tendency to full employment was a development of the last quarter of the nineteenth-century, and part of the so-called Marginalist Revolution. Marginalism also implied that each factor of production, capital and labor, received a share of income in accordance with the services rendered in production. Distribution was harmonious and not conflictive.[i] However, that did not imply that marginalist authors were all for laissez-faire.
It is clear that laissez-faire policies – leaving markets to its own devices without government intervention – could theoretically lead to efficient outcomes in the new theoretical scheme. But many marginalists authors believed that imperfections were relatively common in the real world and that under these circumstances some degree of government intervention was required. Market imperfections were a central reason for government intervention, before the Keynesian Revolution. In addition, most marginalists believed that economics was a science, technical in nature and not an art that required understanding of political factors, like class interests, wage bargaining, the power of capitalists, etc. These were imperfections, and they required government intervention. That was certainly the dominant view within marginalism associated with Cambridge University in England, and with its main academic figure Alfred Marshall.[ii]
Marginalists were part of a late nineteenth-century trend that believed in the power of experts, technocrats, in a period in which economics was becoming professionalized, and independent of the moral sciences. They were policy advisors. Simplifying considerably, one may say that classical authors were for laissez-faire, but not for the self-adjusting nature of capitalism, while marginalists were for the notion that markets are self-regulated, but less keen on hands-off governments. The conjunction of the two, the notion that laissez-faire capitalism is self-adjusting, was a distinctive feature of some of the marginalist authors, in particular the ones associated with the Austrian school, with Ludwig von Mises and his disciple Friedrich Hayek. That is, it is only with the rise of neoliberalism that laissez-faire and the self-adjusting nature of capitalism become associated.[iii]
[i] The notion that distribution is harmonious and not conflictive as assumed by classical authors precedes marginalism or neoclassical economics, and was fundamentally developed in the period after the abandonment of Ricardian economics by pamphleteers and political economists that were afraid of the social implications of the work by David Ricardo, and the development of Socialist theories. Nassau Senior is probably the key author, and Frédéric Bastiat and Harriet Martineau the popularizers of the new dogma. Karl Marx referred to these post-classical authors as vulgar economists, and the term seems fitting.
[ii] Arthur Cecil Pigou, Marshall's main disciple, and John Maynard Keynes' teacher, was concerned exactly with the imperfections caused by externalities that required some sort of government intervention. These would be taxes or subsidies, depending on the nature of the externalities.
[iii] Later, in the 1940s after encountering insurmountable problems with his theory of cycles and the notion of capital, when he distanced himself from economics, Hayek exposed a different argument in favor of laissez-faire policies based on complexity and unintended consequences of government intervention. In this case, the argument was that government failures were worse than market failures or imperfections.
Thursday, July 8, 2021
ROPE will be hosting a special Zoom Webinar, hosted by Lilia Costabile. The webinar is on August 13, 2021, at 1 pm, NY time (Bretton Wood collapsed on August 15, 1971) . To register, please use the following link.
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
The Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE) Clarivate impact factor has gone up again. The five year one is a bit higher at 1.397. For a critical discussion of the role of impact factors and journal rankings see this old post from when ROKE was just 3 years old and was ranked for the first time. Next year it will be the 10th anniversary of the journal.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
I haven't written about bitcoin in a long while, in part because it is somewhat irrelevant, like all notions of a future dominance of private currencies (another of Hayek's incredible blunders; more problems with Hayek here and here). Note that nation states are fine and well, and not going anywhere, and hence national currencies will remain dominant. Only a weak state without its own currency (El Salvador is dollarized; on that see here and here) would make bitcoins legal tender. But more on that later.
Even though it's discussed in my old post, let me first explain why bitcoin makes little sense as a currency. The first thing to note about bitcoiners is that they think that the state management of the currency is prone to abuse, and that the value of money, and, hence the price level (or its change, i.e. inflation) suffers as a result. The slow and persistent mining of bitcoins, in this view, is what leads to a stable price level. The value of money depends on its scarcity, according to some version of the Quantity Theory of Money (or if they were more sophisticated some notion of a natural rate, and that would work at full employment). Of course, that notion breaks down pretty fast, since inflation is seldom related to excess printing of money by the central bank.
Note that the value of bitcoins has recently collapsed from about 60,000 to around 33,000. It's closer to 34,000 or so now. At any rate, to make things simpler, and rounding things up, the price has been halved, in dollars. In other words, if you bought with one bitcoin something that costed US$60,000 now you need approximately 2 bitcoins rather than one to buy the same thing. Prices doubled in bitcoins in just a few days. That's a doubling of the price level, an increase of 100%, or very high inflation in bitcoins. So inflation in bitcoins (and in any currency really) has little relation with the amount of money. Exchange rate depreciation is crucial, as well as other costs (on alternative theories of inflation see here).
In other words, bitcoin is simply an asset, as gold since it was demonetized almost 50 years ago by Nixon, with the closing of the gold window (or 1968, if you take the link to Fed notes). It is something that is purely relevant for speculation, contrary to some other financial assets that might be relevant for other uses, even industrial uses like gold. Don't get me wrong, block chain technology and digital currencies might become relevant, but that would be once national governments and central banks, which are moving slowly in that direction, decide to adopt them.
I haven't read much on Bukele's decision to make bitcoin legal tender. But the notion that this would be good for the population is crazy. Notice that if you send one bitcoin, and the value collapses before its collected and changed back to dollars, in a period in which the price is reduced by half, then the person receives half the amount of dollars. The fluctuations of asset prices could be wild, and the losses staggering. And El Salvador depends heavily on remittances from the US; something around 20 percent of GDP. The only possible relevant use for bitcoins is for illegal transactions, other than speculation in which someone can win huge amounts, while many lose their pants. Other than that, this is a decision that compounds other terrible decisions taken by previous administrations, like dollarization and entering the free trade agreement with the US.
Monday, June 28, 2021
The talk I gave for Rethinking Economics Peru (in Spanish). Go check their website and materials here or if you don't speak Spanish there's a lot of interesting material in the general (in many languages) Rethinking Economics here. An older post, in English, that discusses essentially the same thing.
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Zachary Carter, of Price of Peace fame (a good book that I recommend, btw), wrote an interesting piece on Milton Friedman's legacy, which I think is, as Hyman Minsky said of Joan Robinson's work, wrong in incisive ways. But even before we get to his main point, that the era of Friedmanomics is gone, it is worth thinking a bit about the way he approaches the history of ideas. This is clearly a moral tale for Carter, with good guys and bad guys. Gunfight at high noon. It is more about vision than analysis, in the terminology of Schumpeter.He starts, like Nancy MacLean in her Democracy in Chains -- I discussed only tangentially
Sunday, May 23, 2021
A shorter version at the ISET conference of my Will Lyons Lecture at Franklin & Marshall. And yes, I think Harrod and Skidelsky were right (not Crotty and O'Donnell). He was definitely an Asquith Liberal.
Friday, April 30, 2021
My talk at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia last Friday, in Spanish of course. Part of the argument is that Prebisch, contrary to what is often assumed, moved from an argument that emphasized the role of the external constraint in leading to underdevelopment during his United Nations years, to one that put the emphasis on the patterns of domestic consumption, and its negative impact on the surplus, following the literature on stagnation, in his last book on peripheral capitalism. I suggest that the change is problematic.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
By Thomas Palley (Guest blogger)Almost fifty years ago, the Swedish econographer Axel Leijonhufvud (1973) wrote a seminal study on the Econ tribe titled “Life among the Econ”. This study revisits the Econ and reports on their current state. Life has gotten more complicated since those bygone days. The cult of math modl-ing has spread far and wide, so that even lay Econs practice it. Fifty years ago the Econ used to say “Modl-ing is everything”. Now they say “Modl-ing is the only thing”. The math priesthood has been joined by a priesthood of economagicians. The fundamental social divide between Micro and Macro sub-tribes persists, but it has been diluted by a new doctrine of micro foundations. The Econ remain a fractious and argumentative tribe.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the COVID pandemic that erupted in 2020 have reinforced criticisms of the main, orthodox current economic theory. At the same time, they highlighted the need for and importance of alternative approaches such as Post-Keynesian Economics (PKE). The Post-Keynesian Economics Society (PKES) is an initiative that fosters research and dissemination within the framework of PKE. Furthermore, PKES is committed to working towards a strengthening and an internationalization of heterodox economics networks. The shift to online events due to the covid crisis provides an occasion for such international collaborations. We have worked with the Italian PK network and want to convene a series of webinars with Argentinean PK scholars, which we hope will lead to the launching of the Argentinean Post-Keynesian Association (APKA).
APKA’s objective is to develop a network between economists and other scholars with similar interests, perspectives and approaches, in order to support and disseminate research linked to PKE. We recognize the diverse heterodox traditions of Argentine and more broadly Latin American schools of economic thought with strong links with PKE. Therefore, the APKA extends the invitation to scholars of other traditions such as Structuralism, evolutionism, classical-Sraffianism, institutionalism, regulation theory, feminist economics and ecological economics.
This spring we are organising a series of webinars that explore that the dynamics of developing countries and what PKE can contribute to that. We will analyse financial dynamics, productive structures and the relation between Latin American structuralists and PKE. Each webinar will have two speakers, one based in Argentina and one based in Europe.
Thursday 22/4, 12 noon Argentina = 4pm UK
Financial dynamics in developing countries
Chair: Engelbert Stockhammer (King's College London, UK)
Pablo Bortz (UNSAM, Argentina): "Global financial flows in Kaleckian models of growth and distribution"
Annina Kaltenbrunner (Leeds, UK): "International financial subordination: a critical research agenda"
Thursday 6/5, 1pm Argentina = 5pm UK
PKE, productive structure and economic development
Chair: Pablo Bortz (UNSAM, Argentina)
Martín Abeles (UNSAM, Argentina): TBC
Sara Stevano (SOAS University of London, UK): TBC
Thursday 27/5, 1pm Argentina = 5pm UK
PKE and other heterodox traditions in Latin America
Chair: Florencia Medici (National University of Moreno, Argentina)
Danielle Guizzo (University of Bristol, UK): TBC
Matías Vernengo (Argentina): "María da Conceição Tavares and Heterodox Economics"
Pablo Bortz, Florencia Medici, Engelbert Stockhammer
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Friday, March 12, 2021
Video of the lecture by Michael Lazzara and Esteban Pérez Caldentey, part of the seminar on Memories of Neoliberalism at Bucknell University.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
This piece shows very clearly the limits to deregulation in the case of energy markets. Jamie's oped was published in Project Syndicate, and a slightly different version is available here at INET, in which we find out that radical free market policies ended up in what he termed 'selective socialism.' The relevant paragraph:
the price mechanism failed completely. Wholesale prices rose a hundred-fold – but retail prices, under contract, did not, except for the unlucky customers of Griddy, who got socked with bills for thousands of dollars each day. ERCOT was therefore forced to cut power, which might have been tolerable, had it happened on a rolling basis across neighborhoods throughout the state. But this was impossible: you can’t cut power to hospitals, fire stations, and other critical facilities, or for that matter to high-rise downtown apartments reliant on elevators. So lights stayed on in some areas, and they stayed off – for days on end – in others. Selective socialism, one might call it.
There is a short video here too.
Monday, February 15, 2021
New textbook by Alex M. Thomas, from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India. From the back cover:
Macroeconomics: An Introduction provides a lucid and novel introduction to macroeconomic issues. It introduces the reader to an alternative approach of understanding macroeconomics, which is inspired by the works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Piero Sraffa. It also presents a critical account of mainstream marginalist macroeconomics. The book begins with a brief history of economic theories and then takes the reader through three different ways of conceptualizing the macroeconomy. Subsequently, the theories of money and interest rates, output and employment levels, and economic growth are discussed. It ends by providing a policy template for addressing the macroeconomic concerns of unemployment and inflation. The conceptual discussion in Macroeconomics is situated within the context of the Indian economy. Besides using publicly available data, the contextual description is instantiated using excerpts from works of fiction by Indian authors.
Buy it here.
Thursday, February 11, 2021
New Working Paper with Esteban Pérez at the networkideas. From the abstract:
The name and work of Raúl Prebisch are often associated with the problem of long-term economic development in Latin America. Less well known and explored is Prebisch’s contribution to the study of the monetary and financial problems of the countries of the periphery in relation to those of the center. Prebisch analyzed the post-WW-II monetary plans of John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White from the perspective of their compatibility with his national autonomous monetary policy proposal. He thought that both plans had important shortcomings that would prevent the achievement of their intended objective, international equilibrium in the balance-of-payments. The plans ignored the differences in the levels of development between center and periphery. These differences implied that economic and monetary phenomena could not be viewed through the same lens and that all countries could not be subject to the same norms in monetary policy. Prebisch’s concerns were shared by John H. Williams and also, by Michal Kalecki.
Friday, February 5, 2021
Monday, February 1, 2021
By Thomas PalleyThis paper presents a macroeconomics-friendly Post Keynesian model of the firm describing both an inventory theoretic approach and an entry deterrence approach to choice of excess capacity. The model explains why firms may rationally choose to have excess capacity. It also shows the two approaches are complementary and reinforcing of each other. Analytically, the paper makes three principal contributions. First, it provides a simple framework for understanding the microeconomics of capacity utilization choice. Second, it reframes the Post Keynesian discussion of capacity utilization by making excess capacity choice the key to understanding normal capacity utilization. Third, it implicitly challenges Neo-Kaleckian wage-led growth theory as the model shows choice of the optimal excess capacity rate is independent of the level of demand.
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
From Regulation to Deregulation and (Perhaps) Back: A Peculiar Continuity in the Analytical Framework
The rise of the regulatory state during the Gilded Age was closely associated with the development of Institutionalist ideas in American academia. In their analysis of the emergent regulatory environment, Institutionalists like John Commons operated with a fundamentally marginalist theory of value and distribution. This engagement is a central explanation for the ultimate ascendancy of neoclassical economics, and the limitations of the regulatory environment that emerged in the Progressive Era. The eventual rise of the Chicago School and its deregulatory ambitions did constitute a rupture, but one achieved without rejecting preceding conceptions of competition and value. The substantial compatibility of the view of markets underlying both the regulatory and deregulatory periods is stressed, casting doubt about the transformative potential of the resurgent regulatory impulse in the New Gilded Age.
Download full paper here.
Monday, December 28, 2020
A few weeks ago I bought the little book on top (a new edition of a previously published one, I think). Sadly not long after I learnt of Leo Panitch's untimely death (obit by Chibber here). The book tries to account for three recent defeats of the democratic socialist left in recent times, even though it was written before the ultimate defeat of Bernie Sanders by the establishment candidate earlier this year. He and his co-authors discuss the rise of democratic socialism, and the consequences of the defeat, or one might say the caving, suffered by Syriza, which they point out was "the only party to the left of traditional social democracy in Europe that succeeded in winning a national election"* (p. 29), and what they call "the devastating defeat Corbyn suffered at the hand of Boris Johnson in December 2019" (p. 67).
The main lesson about the Syriza failure, even before the somewhat expected electoral defeat in 2019, was the absence of a Plan B. It could not back it's challenge to the Troika's austerity plans, since there was no plan for exiting the Euro, and they assume that would have led to leaving the European Union too. They say: "There was a marked lack of seriousness, if not dishonesty, behind the tendency to treat the referendum as proving, not just the massive public support for resisting further Troika-imposed draconian austerity (which was the question actually posed) but that the same support would have existed for leaving the eurozone, and most likely the EU, in light of the capital and import controls that this inevitably would have led to." In a sense, the notion is that there was support (from the middle class?) for pushing against the Troika, but not really for leaving the Euro. On Syriza's betrayal of the No Referendum see the old post by Stavros Mavroudeas here.
The lessons in the Corbyn case are less clear to me. They praise the Labour Party's 2019 Manifesto as being "more coherent and progressive [than the 2017 one], especially in making the environmental crisis rather than the need for export competitiveness, the overarching framework for the radical industrial strategy" (pp. 67-68). But they seem concerned fundamentally with how markets would punish a more radical government, and with the absence of "plans to deal with capital flight or a run on the pound" and the silence on "how and when to introduce controls over the movement of capital" (p. 65; although that seems more about the 2017 Manifesto). That notion of the dangers of capital blackmailing left of center governments seems to be part of their general view. They also tell us (p. 82), regarding the Meidner Plan in Sweden to socialize the ownership of the means of production, that it was "resisted by Palme's Social Democratic government... [because] it had a fatal flaw: why would owners, knowing there is a timetable for their expropriation, continue to invest?"
Of course, a left of center governments could use monetary policy tools to avoid capital flight (including higher rates, and not just controls), and investment depends considerably more on whether the economy is growing or not. But my main problem with the discussion on Corbyn's defeat is their unwillingness to deal with the issue of Brexit and the role it played in his defeat more explicitly. My views on Brexit have not changed much since this post, so I'll avoid getting into it. But it seems clear that, like in the United States, in order to discuss the economic grievances of the working class, the left of center parties must be willing to discuss more directly the problems of economic integration.
Sanders has been doing that, and yet, he lost a second time. The book cannot discuss that, since it was written, it seems, before April and the victory of Biden in the primary. Here the issues of the inability to win, to a great extent because the party machine makes it impossible, opens the discussion of whether fighting inside the Democratic Party is the correct strategy. Like Michael Harrington, I believe that there is little alternative. I'm not sure that's their view in the book. At any rate, they do praise Bernie for having "a class-focused campaign" (p. 71) and spend a good amount of ink (pp. 74-86) criticizing Elizabeth Warren's firm based rather than class-based struggle for democracy (p. 87). It seems that a reform both of the primary system within the Democratic Party and an elimination of the electoral college are needed for a democratic (lower case) society in the US.
If there is a lesson, although it's not expelled out explicitly in the book, is that the forces of neoliberalism are incredibly strong, and resilient. Perhaps, that's a lesson that could have been seen in the several defeats of the left in Latin America with the end of the pink tide a few years ago. In the case of Latin America, lawfare, the use of the media, and the international institutions, and more recently even military force (in the case of Bolivia)+ were central to defeat left of center governments. In the case of Chile, it's worth remembering the role of the Constitution in tying the hands of left of center administrations, and how a referendum was needed to overturn Pinochet's charter. And the book suggests correctly in my view that "democratization can't occur without changing the context within which economic units, and thus workers, relate to each other" (p. 85). At any rate, Panitch always forced us to reflect, and this last book continues to do so.
* Podemos in Spain is part of the government coalition, of course.
+ Although international organizations like the Organization of American States were crucial too, and the coup was eventually defeated by the democratic forces on the left.
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
There are many elements in that assessment that are correct. Schumpeter's massive History of Economic Analysis does mention Khaldun in passing on his discussion of historical sociology, but he also argues that between the ideas of classical antiquity and scholastic thinking there was a great gap.** In his words: "So far as our subject is concerned we may safely leap over 500 years to the epoch of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–74), whose Summa Theologica is in the history of thought what the south-western spire of the Cathedral of Chartres is in the history of architecture." There is little recognition of the role of Arab scholars in maintaining and expanding the knowledge of classical antiquity in almost all fields. And in the field that eventually would be associated with political economy, Khaldun's Muqaddimah, or Introduction (or Prolegomena), does indeed provide significant progress over the work of classical antiquity.
His work essentially deals with the cyclical rise and fall of caliphates, and analyzes the material conditions for these historical circumstances. Robert Irwin in his intellectual biography of Khaldun, reminds us that: “Arnold Toynbee, who produced a twelve-volume study of the rise and fall of civilizations, described Ibn Khaldun’s theoretical treatise on history, the Muqaddima, as 'undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time or place'.”
However, while all of that is correct, and should lead to a more encompassing understanding of the role of non-western economic thinking, it is also important to bear in mind what was the contribution of Ibn Khaldun, how it fits in the history of ideas, and also in what sense classical political economy authors have an original theoretical framework. That tradition, it is worth noticing starts really with Sir William Petty, not Smith, as noted by whom I would suggest is the first serious historian of economic ideas, Karl Marx, in his Theories of Surplus Value. Furthermore, it is important to be careful and avoid the normal confusion of seeing Adam Smith as the father of modern, meaning marginalist (or neoclassical), economics. As a general principle, I would also be critical of the notion that the history of economic ideas is the repository of old versions of modern economic theory, that have to be deciphered and understood in modern guise. It was exactly this kind of thinking that led many marginalists, like Alfred Marshall, to suggest that they were expanding on the ideas of classical authors like David Ricardo, when in fact they were subverting them.***
I would suggest that there are two important differences between Ibn Khaldun and the Anglo-French tradition of the surplus approach, associated with the Petty-Cantillon-Quesnay-Smith-Ricardo (and I would add Marx; on the first three that form the basis for the work of the surplus approach see this chapter by Tony Aspromourgos) line of evolution. First, while Khaldun is interested in the cyclical rise and fall of civilizations, associated to the sedentary, urban, mercantile caliphates bordered by nomadic, desert populations, Smith developed at the same time and independently from Turgot (on that see Ronald Meek), a linear four stage theory of economic development, from hunting (and gathering), to pastoral, then agricultural, and finally commercial societies, which is the term he used for societies like the England of the time, were manufacturing activities and financial relations were significantly developed. These ideas would lead to Marx's materialist conception of history based on the notion of modes of production, evolving from ancient slavery and feudalism to capitalism.
It seems that while a perception that, what we now call, the social sciences are historical in nature was clearly in Khaldun's writings, the conception of history, and the scope of the analysis was different than the one in Smith. The reason is not only related to the fact that Khaldun was writing in the Middle Ages, before the rise of capitalism, but also, and more importantly it seems, Khaldun was looking at the specific circumstances of Arab societies, even if there were universal lessons in his analysis. The evolution from hunter-gathering to agriculture and to manufacturing are more universal. Further, Marx's conception of modes of production emphasizes the method and the social relations of production by which surplus is extracted from workers. Command and coercion in the context of slave and feudal societies, and market relations in the case of capitalism.
The second difference is related to the notion of surplus, and the source of value. It is true that there was a notion of a surplus beyond what is needed for survival in Khaldun's work, and that it allowed in his view for crafts and division of labor, or specialization, as would be discussed by classical authors much later. And there was also a clear sense that labor was the source of value, and that a producer must cover the costs of production. Some have argued that one can see the labor theory of value (LTV) in Khaldun's writings. However, it is clear that the conception of profits and of prices in Khaldun was not in conformity with the LTV.
He argues in chapter 5 of the Muqaddimah that: "Commerce is a natural way of making profits. However, most of its practices and methods are tricky and designed to obtain the (profit) margin between purchase prices and sales prices. This surplus makes it possible to earn a profit." In other words, the surplus results from selling at a higher price than purchased in the process of exchange. Profits were not a residual obtained in the process of production for Khaldun, after the conditions for reproduction of society, in particular the subsistence of the labor force, was obtained. This is, of course, the whole point of classical political economy. The understanding of the objective, material conditions for the reproduction of society. Profits were obtained in the process of production, and that would allow to understand accumulation, since the surplus was the basis for economic growth. Accumulation and not the cyclical fluctuations of civilizations were at the center of classical political economy analysis, reflecting, perhaps, the dynamic nature of capitalist societies.
These differences suggest that Khaldun was, most likely, an important source for scholastic, and mercantilist/cameralist authors to which classical authors were to some extent responding in their own writings. Mercantilists authors also thought in terms of profits in the process of exchange, which was to some extent to be expected in pre-capitalist societies with a large mercantile sector. These were essentially agrarian societies, and the transformation of the structure of production was not yet significant. Recognizing the role of Arab scholars in preserving the texts and the knowledge of ancient scholars, and their ability to move beyond the ancients is crucial for the proper understanding of the evolution of economic ideas. But it is important understand their actual contributions to avoid more confusion in the history of ideas.
* In this piece it is suggested that the history of thought textbooks by Screpanti and Zamagni and by Roncaglia are mainstream texts, and put in the same category with Blaug's book. That is of course a misconception. The former differentiate between classical and marginalist traditions, and do not argue for the continuity, as Blaug does, and can be seen as clearly heterodox in nature.
** Spengler (1964) is the classic study on Khaldun by western historians of economic thought. Although his essay is careful about Khaldun's contribution it might give to much credence to the notion that the "economic literature of Islam can be traced to the Economics of Bryson", for the ancient Greek philosopher.
** It is worth noticing that the piece cited at the beginning suggests that Khaldun is a precursor of Smith, presumably because of the division of labor, but without a distinction of productive and unproductive activities, but also of Alfred Marshall. We are told that Khaldun "analyzed markets which arise based on the division of labor and examined market forces in a simple didactic way which is very similar to the attitude of Alfred Marshall. The invention of supply and demand analysis wasn’t invented in the 19th century: the islamic scholar also described the relationship of demand and supply." Supply and demand forces were well-known before Khaldun. Marginalism suggested that long-term prices, what Smith called natural prices, were determined by those forces.
Monday, December 14, 2020
The English translation of Sergio Cesaratto's book has been published. A Free chapter is available at the Springer website here.
From the promotion pamphlet:
This book discloses the economic foundations of European fiscal and monetary policies by introducing readers to an array of alternative approaches in economics. It presents various heterodox theories put forward by classical economists, Marx, Sraffa and Keynes, as a coherent challenge to neo-classical theory. The book underscores and critically assesses the analytical inconsistencies of European economic policy and the conservative nature of the current European governance. In this light, it examines the political obstacles to proposals to reform the European monetary union, as well as those originating in the neo-mercantilist German model. Given its scope and format, the book offers a valuable asset for researchers and members of the general public alike.
Go get one immediately!
Saturday, December 12, 2020
Collapse, ma non troppo! New IDEAS Working Paper on the alternative views of the collapse of Bretton Woods. From the abstract: Contrary to c...
Fields, David (Forthcoming), “Classical Dichotomy,” Edward Elgar Encyclopedia on Central Banking , edited by L.P. Rochon et...
Jessica Finnamore (Guest blogger) Heterodox economics refers to any school of thought which is not accepted by the economic mainstream, or...
Teaching on the capital debates this and last week. So here are some thoughts, based on my class notes and the required readings (see below)...