Modern Radicals Review Ideas Thought

Radicals History Review, Radical Ideas and Thought

Bongo: Human beings should not eat each other.
Wowsy: Good Gooey Gow! You can't dictate to people what they're going to
eat and what they're not going to eat. Men have always eaten each other and always will. It's natural. You can't change human nature.
Bongo: I love my fellow men.
Wowsy: So do I—with gravy on them.

The conservative economists, like Wowsy, argue that people are born with certain ideas—such as eating people, or holding slaves, or being a competitive capitalist— and that there is no way to change those ideas.

By contrast with conservatives, radical economists believe that all ideas and preferences—such as our desire for Cadillacs—are shaped by the society in which we live. . . . Since our ideology is determined by our social environment, radical economists contend that a change in our socioeconomic structure will eventually change the dominant ideology. . . . There is thus hope of a completely new and better society with new and better views by most people.

The preceding paragraphs are quoted from the beginning of Hunt and Sherman's radical introductory economics textbook. The quotation demonstrates an im­portant aspect of the way in which radicals view the economy. They believe orthodoxy accepts too much of the status quo; radicals want to change it, not accept it.

Twentieth-Century Parents of Modern Radicals

The radical school has its origins in Marx's analysis, but it has both extended Marxian economic analysis and moved beyond it. At the turn of the century, as neoclassical economics was being established, Marx had few followers among Western economists, in part because of his inherent anticapitalist views. Societies and their institutions will not support analysis that advocates their own destruc­tion. Marx's analysis did attract followers among noneconomists, however, and a few Marxian economists have achieved some status in the economics profes­sion. A number of important works in Marxian economics were published between the 1930s and the 1970s, including Maurice Dobb's Political Economy and Capitalism (1937), Joan Robinson's An Essay on Marxian Economics (1942), Paul Sweezy's The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942), and Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy's Monopoly Capital (1966). Active discussion of Marxian issues has been kept alive in the Monthly Review, and the Monthly Review Press has been an outlet for book-length Marxian analysis.

Maurice Dobb (1900-1976) was the foremost British academic Marxist from the 1930s through the 1960s. He published his first book on entrepreneurship at twenty-five and continued an active scholarly life with contributions on Russian economic development, Marxian theory, economic history, underdevel­oped countries, welfare economics, and the history of economic thought. With Piero Sraffa (1898-1983), he edited the Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo.

Joan Robinson (1903-1983), without doubt the most prominent woman economist, burst on the scene as a mainstream economist with her impressive Economics of Imperfect Competition, published in the same year (1933) as E. H. Chamberlin's Theory of Monopolistic Competition, In that work she exhibited great skill as a microeconomic theorist in using marginal analysis to clarify and extend Marshall's hints concerning markets situated somewhere between pure competition and pure monopoly. For several years before the publication of Keynes's General Theory, there was considerable interest in a Chamberlin-Robinson analysis of imperfectly competitive markets. As an important member of the small group of economists from Cambridge and Oxford who helped J. M. Keynes develop the ideas that became the General Theory, she gained further prestige. In 1937 she published Introduction to the Theory of Employment, an outstanding introduction to Keynes's ideas. Robinson's intellectual and po­litical life manifested a gradual movement away from orthodoxy. Her An Essay on Marxian Economics (1942) remains an excellent short analysis of Marx. In the 1950s she offered a new analysis of capital theory that rejected much of mainstream neoclassical capital and marginal productivity theory. Moving further from orthodoxy, she authored an introductory economics text in­tended to convey her ideas to a broader audience, but it was not commercially successful.

As Joan Robinson grew older, there was considerable speculation each year that she might win a Nobel Prize in economics. Many in the profession, from the most orthodox to the very heterodox, were puzzled when each year went by without this honor's being given to so outstanding an economist. We too have pondered this question. We speculate that the reason was not that others were more deserving or that she was a woman, but that her movement out of neoclassical and Keynesian theory had brought her into the muddy waters of heterodoxy. Nevertheless, Joan Robinson was an important precursor of the post-Keynesians and may have had the most significant non-Marxian influence on modern radical economics.


Paul M. Sweezy (1910- ) published a seminal article in 1939 developing

the kinked demand curve as a tool in the analysis of oligopoly. Sweezy was at Harvard when Keynes's ideas were brought to the United States, but he preferred to stay within the Marxian tradition. He left the academic world when he was still a young man and has spent the rest of his life trying to adapt Marx to the twentieth century. He and Leo Huberman edited the Monthly Review, a major journal for the dissemination of heterodox Marxist ideas. His Theory of Capi­talist Development (1942) is probably the best published presentation of Marx's economic thought. In 1966 he and Paul Baran published Monopoly Capital, an adaptation of Marx's analysis of capitalism to the Keynesian world of the 1960s. This book became a starting point for many of the radical economists generated by the period of the Vietnam War. It also refocused attention on the problem of marginal productivity theory and imperialism raised by John A. Hobson at the turn of the century.

Paul Baran (1910-1964), born in Russia and educated in Europe, came to the United States during the 1930s, like many other scholars. After a variety of experiences, he became a professor at Stanford. Baran's economics professorship at a major American graduate school was considered unusual, because he was an acknowledged Marxist. The fact that Marxists have not been given professor­ships at major centers of graduate education in the United States is not without interest to students of the history of economic thought.

Possibly the most provocative work in stimulating radical theorists has been Baran and Sweezy's Monopoly Capital (1966). Essentially Marxist, the book

(1) introduces into radical economics some of Michal Kalecki's ideas and some elements from the theory of monopolistic competition and oligopoly, while

(2) implicitly dropping Marx's labor theory of value. Baran and Sweezy pointed to Marx's astuteness in predicting the growth of oligopoly but saw his analysis as faulty in claiming that competition would generate falling rates of profit over time. They maintained that profits would rise over time with the increasing concentration of capital—monopoly capital. Crises in the capitalist period of history would be brought about, they said, not by falling profits but by under­consumption. They predicted that the capitalist reaction to underconsumption would be to create even larger firms, more wasteful consumption, and more expenditures by government in order to stabilize the failing system. As a result of Monopoly Capital and the literature it generated, one could be a radical without accepting all the older Marxian positions—in particular, the labor theory of value, a class analysis, and the inevitable fall in the rate of profits under capitalism.