Two people posted comments about my bitter sweet reminiscences of a time when it seemed that Marx’s approach to an understanding of capitalism might be staging a comeback. The first is someone who uses as his or her web name Voltaire’s famous injunction about the Catholic Church, l’écrasez l’infame.” The second signs him or herself F. Lengyel, which a little Googling suggests might be the name of a mathematician. On this quiet Monday morning, while I wait to see whether the White House explodes, I should like to respond.
I am delighted that l’écrasez [or, to use his or her proper name, M. or Mme. Infame] found my book, Understanding Marx, helpful and even inspiring. Indeed, I am thrilled. That is what authors hope for and dream of! If it is true that my little book made him/her a Marxist, what could possibly be better?
F. Lengyel also writes about the relation of Marxism to math, with a reference to Herb Gintis, who was, with his colleague Sam Bowles, an early inspiration for me when I was first digging deeply into Marx’s thought. I have always believed that Sam and Herb [as everyone at UMass referred to them] took a wrong turn when they scuttled Marxism for Game Theory, but that is a large subject for another day.
Modern Neo-Classical economists occupy an odd and fundamentally inauthentic position in the Academy, at least to my jaundiced eye, a position illuminated in a way by the famous essay by the British novelist and scientist C.P. Snow, “The Two Cultures.” Snow writes acerbically about the appalling ignorance of the most elementary science exhibited by supremely self-confident, even arrogant, classicists, historians, and philosophers in Oxford and Cambridge Senior Common Rooms. The gulf between the two cultures is asymmetric, as Snow makes clear, because whereas even the most prosaic scientist will have at least heard of Shakespeare and Plato and Shelley, distinguished classical scholars experience not a scintilla of embarrassment at their total ignorance of such elementary terms as mass, acceleration, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
Economists are housed in Divisions of Behavioral Science, but they queen it around as better than their fellow Social Scientists and Humanists because they make use of calculus and linear algebra. Now the truth is that these are undergraduate subjects to a math major, hardly worth making a fuss about, but economists make much of their equations, looking down their noses condescendingly at philosophers or historians who never include an integral sign or a Sigma in their professional papers. Philosophers, eternal wannabes, scatter backwards E’s in their prose, even when there is no conceivable need for them, and write things like “S knows that p” as though they were intoning the Eleusinian Mysteries.