In his Economics Transformed: Discovering the Brilliance of Marx, Robert Albritton has attempted to take academic economics to task by arguing for the need to take on board Marx’s method in order to understand the economy. In doing so, he not only forcefully exhibits how (in Marx’s words) their “crass empiricism turns into false metaphysics [and] scholasticism”, but also exposes how his own shortcomings in understanding Marx’s method leave him unable to offer a credible alternative.
Albritton is scathing of the “great academic scandal” that constitutes neoclassical economics. Marx’s analysis proceeded from the study of the most basic “cell form” of capitalist society, the commodity. Mainstream economics, however, simply takes the commodity form as a given and fails to recognise how it “hides the structural property relations that lie behind it”. Marx goes on to argue that a purely mathematical approach to economics will always be unreliable since it fails to take account of human agency.
When it comes to putting across Marx’s argument, however, Albritton is on shaky ground. Proceeding from the standpoint of the Japanese “Unoist” school of Marxist political economy, Albritton constantly refers to “the theory of a purely capitalist society” in which all inputs are totally commodified, including labour. He sees the “dialectic of capital” as a totality that cannot simply be directly applied to historical development.
Economics Transformed is clearly aimed at an academic audience. Albritton hopes it will be a contribution towards a shift in academia to Marxist economics. Ultimately, this is an underwhelming book which, by jettisoning the radical heritage of Marxism, is unable to offer any convincing account of how Marxism can “infiltrate” the academy. Thankfully, generations of socialists have already discovered the brilliance of Marx as a tool for human emancipation and not simply for seminar discussions.
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