The relevance of Marx to all students of Economics, no matter the level

Nicholas Potts

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    Like most economics students we did not encounter Marx in any of our undergraduate economics units (although even at level one we did encounter Marx in our politics option). The absence of Marx would be of no concern if mainstream economics actually made better or clearer sense of the real world than Marx, i.e. if in the last 100 years economics as a science had understood Marx (and other economists) and moved on to a higher level of understanding. The problem, as clearly explained in Freeman (2004), is whether economics can actually be seen as a science. Freeman contends economics is in fact closer to religion than science, or rather it represents an ideology of the market, prioritising its own hidden “political agenda” over genuine scientific investigation. Centrally economic problems, such as unemployment, recurrent cyclical recessions and inequality, cannot be seen as problems inherent in the market itself, but must be identified as the outcome of unfavourable external/exogenous influences on the market. The market rules supreme, only our naïve actions can cause it to be imperfect. Once, at masters level (only by option), we finally did encounter Marx, the question, revealed in hindsight, arises as to which Marx did we actually encounter? In addition to “worshipping” the market economics has another strange “scientific” practice, it changes/rewrites what past economists have actually said[1]. Let us be clear on this point we contend economics does not modify past theories, acknowledging their original content, rather it modifies past theories and contends what the modification says is actually what was originally said/or what was originally meant to be said. Do not go back to past economists' actual work; just take modern economists word for it! If economics is indeed not a science then many students “problems” in understanding mainstream economics is explained by the peculiar nature of those ideas. However, as defence against logical engagement with the substance of their ideas mainstream economics assaults students with both quantity and complexity. Introductory texts are commonly huge, while if the student thinks they understand something there is always a further level of complexity (usually expressed in maths) to add. The student is left in awe of the abstract religion, more concerned to master it than actually question it/logically engage with it/see any real world relevance to it. We content it is time, long overdue, that we better served our students by teaching them something they can actually understand/relate to, i.e. Marx.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)827-851
    Number of pages22
    JournalInternational Journal of Social Economics
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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