Introduction to Marxist Economics
Karl Marx did work across a range of fields—from philosophy to politics to sociology—but it’s for his contributions to economics and political economy that he’s most well-known, celebrated, and critiqued. Drawing on, yet transcending, the political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, Marx sought nothing less than to anatomize and explain the capitalist system in all its totality—its incredible dynamism on the one hand, its endemic volatility on the other. As capitalism has expanded and evolved, certain economic propositions advanced by Marx have arguably been proven true, others not. How can we understand Marxist economics, and what light does it shed on both the individual aspects of economic life—from wages to employment to recessions and depressions—and the general tendencies, evolution, and direction of the capitalist system as a whole?
In this course, we will explore the economic concepts on which Marx’s theory of capitalism is built, examining each in turn and ultimately as a composite whole. We will start with an introduction to the idea and importance of historical materialism as a mode for analyzing and understanding economic phenomena, before proceeding to the study of Marx’s notion of the commodity, the labor theory of value (and the differences between labor and labor power), and surplus value, and the meaning and functional significance of exploitation. We will then turn our attention to Marxist understandings of capitalist production, taking a look at the circuit of industrial capital, simple and expanded reproduction, and the accumulation of capital. Next, we will explore Marx’s theories of crisis, examining in particular two key concepts: the technical and organic composition of capital, and the controversial “law” of the falling rate of profit. Finally, we will look at Marx’s understanding of banking and financial capital and his theory of interest. Throughout we will ask: how can we understand the elements of Marxist economic thought individually and as a whole? Does the plausibility or viability of one facet determine the viability of another? How does Marxist economics relate to other schools of thought, from the classical to the Keynesian? And lastly, what are the power and limits of Marxist economics as a mode for understanding, critiquing, and predicting capitalism in the 21st century? Reading will include selected chapters of Marx’s Capital, as well as Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho’s classic overview Marx’s Capital.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 19 — November 09, 2023