Marx’s Birthday and the Dismal Science: A Few Observations


by Carolina Alves and Ingrid H. Kvangraven

With 2017 marking the 150th anniversary of Capital and 2018 marking the bicentennial of the birth of Karl Marx, it is not a surprise that the number of events and exhibitions celebrating Marx’s work and exploring the significance of Marxism in the world today have gone through the roof. A little sample can be found here, here, here, here and here (see also The Guardian’s sum up of exhibitions, books – and pub crawls)! And it would be unfair to not mention the British Library’s PhD placement on Karl Marx offered last summer, which aimed to develop ideas for events and activities that would engage the public and research communities with Marx’s life and his wider legacy (with a brilliant emphasis on Marx’s daughter Eleanor – a writer and political activist in her own right). Some of the results can be seen here, here, here and here.

Of course, Friedrich Engels’ far-reaching contributions have not been ignored (here and here); and neither should Jenny Marx’s contributions, who, like Mary Burns, have never been a mere accessory[1] and, before falling in love with the Jewish romantic rebel, was a woman interested in French socialism and German romanticism, engaged in an early feminist views on women’s equality, and committed to the struggle for the working-class (influenced by her father). Hence, Jenny’s possible allusion that Marx was “Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and Schiller’s Karl von Moor, and he would be Shelley’s Prometheus, chained to a precipice because he dared to challenge a tyrannical god” (Gabriel, 2011, p. 20).

Putting aside this rich line-up of events, what has caught our attention is the equal proliferation of pieces celebrating Marx’s birthday, for the better or for the worse. From misleading and derogatory articles such as the Rulers of the world: read Karl Marx! published by The Economist to educational short pieces such as Cooper’s It’s time to normalize Karl Marx, it is difficult to not wonder about the reasons behind such opposing views. Similarly, it is difficult to resist the temptation to add a little contribution to the debate. So here we are.

We will not dwell on Marx’s contributions and current relevance, which has been done effectively by so many academics, political activists and journalists. Neither will we unpack and discuss the issues with value-laden opinions on Marx’s economic theory, and simple-minded association of Marx’s political ideas with historical events of the 20th century. We will, however, for the sake of being one more blog post on Marx’s 200th birthday, reiterate and explore Marx’s work’s undeniable and vital influence in contemporary thought, politics and political practice. Further, and perhaps the main inspiration that led us to write this blog post, we wish to add some more thoughts on Marx’s influence (or lack thereof)  in modern times, namely the effects of the marginalization of his ideas in the field of Economics.Read More »

What is missing in the ‘33 Theses for an Economics Reformation’

Andrew Simms (New Weather Institute), Sally Svenlen (RE student), Larry Elliott (Guardian), Steve Keen (Debunking Economics) and Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics) symbolically nail the “33 Theses” to the door of the London School of Economics in December 2017.

By Erik Reinert (Talinn University of Technology) and Andrea Saltelli (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)

On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation, 33 Theses for an Economics Reformation were formulated by Rethinking Economics and the New Weather Institute. The document was symbolically nailed to the door of the London School of Economics In December 2017 and endorsed in The Guardian, and was supported by an impressive list of over 60 leading academics and policy experts. The initiative offers a rare and most welcome refreshing message from the House of Economics.

Several elements in the theses are long overdue – for example, the existence of planetary limits, the superiority of political deliberation over economic logic, the appreciation of the role of uncertainty in economic predictions, the non-independence of facts and values when economic thoughts are formulated, the warning against over-reliance on modelling, econometrics and formal methods. Also important is the indication that both growth and innovation need to be conceived with a desirable end in sight, one which can be associated with material and spiritual progress – rather than with misery, inequity and inequality. It is finally all important that in the teaching of economics itself the history and philosophy of economics should be taught, together with all economic theories: not just the family tree of mainstream economics.Read More »

Thinking politically about capital controls: a class perspective


The recent global financial crisis sparked renewed debates, both within academia and policy-making circles, about regulating highly mobile cross-border money-capital flows. A particular type of policy tool has received considerable attention: capital controls (CC). Within mainstream economics and policy-oriented circles (including policy-makers in central banks, finance ministries, and international organisations such as the IMF and the G20) there has been a growing recognition that unregulated cross-border money-capital flows can considerably disrupt capital accumulation, and debates have accordingly focused on the potential role and effectiveness of temporary CC in limiting the destabilising potential of those flows, while maintaining a long-term commitment to an open capital-account and free capital mobility.[1] By contrast, the Left (including organised labour, progressive economists, and civil society organisations) has been largely critical of capital-account liberalisation, and has denounced its detrimental effects in terms of constraining policy options for development and long-term industrial development.[2]Read More »

Towards a Critical Pluralist Research Agenda in Development Economics: Some Bricks from Berlin to Build Upon

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By Svenja Flechtner, Jakob Hafele & Theresa Neef

Much has been said about what’s going wrong in development economics – on this blog (for example by Adel Daoud, Ingrid H. Kvangraven, or Jacob Assa) and elsewhere (for example by Angus Deaton, Dani Rodrik, and Benjamin Selwyn), as well as in newspapers. Much has been written, too, about alternative perspectives and approaches to economic development thinking (this recent compilation by Reinert, Ghosh and Kattel gives an overview of many of them). But is it possible to build a coherent pluralist and critical framework out of these approaches? If so, what could a critical and pluralist research agenda for development economics look like?Read More »

Toward an Economic Theory of Imperialism?


“Our role is to widen the field of discussion, not to set limits in accord with the prevailing authority.” Edward Said, Orientalism (1978)

This blog post aims to introduce Patnaik’s theory of imperialism – as developed in The Value of Money (2009) – and its relation to economic theory. According to Patnaik a cogent economic theory that seeks to understand the laws of capitalism necessarily stems from a coherent theory of money due to the central place money plays in a capitalist mode of production. Hence, the purpose of his scientific endeavor is to examine the underlying social arrangement behind the determination of the value of money. Consequently, the conceptual framework Patnaik establishes starts with the following question: what does determine the value of money?

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e-Book Launch: Can Dependency Theory Explain Our World Today?


Is it time for dependency theory to make a comeback? Its central idea is that developed (”core”) countries benefit from the global system at the expense of developing (”periphery”) countries—which face structural barriers that make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to develop in the same way that the already developed countries did. As neo-classical economics came to dominate the field in the 1980s, the theory lost prominence and traction. Given the vast imbalances that persist within and among nations in the global economy today, it’s an opportune time to revisit the framework.

To that end, INET’s Young Scholars Initiative (YSI) has released a new e-book, Conversations on Dependency Theory. The volume, released by YSI’s Economic Development Working Group, comprises interviews with 13 scholars from around the world who express a variety of viewpoints on the meaning and relevance of dependency theory in today’s context.

Is ‘Imperialism’ a Relevant Concept Today? A Debate Among Marxists

This month, four prominent Marxists met at The New School in New York to debate the relevance of imperialism. The debate was related to the publication of Prabhat Patnaik’s (Jawaharlal Nehru University) new book A Theory of Imperialism (written with Utsa Patnaik). With him in the panel were geographer David Harvey (CUNY), political scientist Nancy Fraser (The New School), and economist Duncan Foley (The New School). Economics Professor Sanjay Reddy (The New School) moderated the debate. The main question for the panelists was: Is ‘Imperialism’ a relevant concept today? A fruitful debate followed, suggesting that contemporary imperialism is crying out for analysis and critique.

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What Can We Learn from Alternative Theories of Economic Development?


As people across the world are struggling to understand the rise of Trumpism, anti-establishment and anti-free trade movements, Erik Reinert (Tallinn University of Technology), Jayati Ghosh (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and Rainer Kattel (Tallinn University of Technology) have put together an impressive Handbook of Alternative Theories of Economic Development that can help make sense of what’s going on. As the field of Economics has become increasingly narrow since the 1970s, many important scholars and theories have been excluded from the field, and since forgotten. This Handbook presents rich historical accounts and ideas that can help explain economic and social development, and is a much needed attempt to correct for the existing biases in the field of Economics.Read More »