Sunday, August 31, 2008

Red-Baiting Keynesian Textbooks

What economists know now is influenced by what they could teach in the past. Perhaps where we are now has something do with interventions in the past from outside of academic economics. I think, for example, of the suppression of Lorie Tarshis' full-throated Keynesianism.

Lorie Tarshis was a Canadian who attended Cambridge while Keynes was working out the General Theory. He attended Keynes' annual lectures from 1932 to 1935. With others, he brought Keynes' economics to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tarshis was at Tufts. He later wrote the first introductory textbook to incorporate Keynesianism. I gather this textbook, Elements of Economics (Houghton Mifflin, 1947) predates Samuelson's textbook. Let's look at a reaction to the use of this textbook in teaching the introduction to economics at Yale:
"Marx himself, in the course of his lifetime, envisaged two broad lines of action that could be adopted to destroy the bourgeoisie: one was violent revolution; the other, a slow increase of state power, through extended social services, taxation, and regulation, to a point where a smooth transition could be effected from an individualist to a collectivist society. The Communists have come to scorn the latter method, but it is nevertheless evident that the prescience of their most systematic and inspiring philosopher has not been thereby vitiated.

It is a revolution of the second type, one that advocates a slow but relentless transfer of power from the individual to the state, that has roots in the Department of Economics at Yale, and unquestionably in similar departments in many colleges throughout the country. The documentation that follows should paint a vivid picture." -- William F. Buckley, Jr. God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of Academic Freedom, Henry Regery, 1951, p. 46-47
Buckley applies his ideologically-charged nonsense to textbooks by Tarshis, Samuelson, and a few others.


Patch said...

Today I still don't know any good undergrad (post) keynesian textbooks around. The book written by Joan Robinson and John Eatwell is interesting, but not good. After reading Jan Kregel's textbook you ask yourself, "Where's the point?" The best book I know is written by Paul Davidson (Post Keynesian Macroeconomic Theory), but it requires allready having passed some basic economics classes.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen Hugh Stretton's Economics: A New Introduction (Pluto Press, 2000)? I found that pretty good. Here is Stretton on the labour market:

"In defiance of market theory, the demand for labour tends strongly to vary with its price, not inversely to it. Wages are high when there is full employment. Wages -- especially for the least-skilled and lowest paid -- are lowest when there is least employment. The causes chiefly run from the employment to the wages, rather than the other way. Unemployment weakens the bargaining power, worsens the job security and working conditions, and lowers the pay of those still in jobs.

"The lower wages do not induce employers to create more jobs . . . most business firms have no reason to take on more hands if wages decline. Only empty warehouses, or the prospect of more sales can get them to do that, and these conditions rarely coincide with falling employment and wages. The causes tend to work the other way: unemployment lowers wages, and the lower wages do not restore the lost employment."

He is coming from a post-Keynesian perspective, but covers the neo-classical perspective as well (and explains why its usually wrong).

Paul Davidson's work is usually very good. I particularly like his review of an introduction to Austrian economics...

An Anarchist FAQ

Robert Vienneau said...

I still haven't read Stretton. I recall that I posted a list of textbooks two years ago. Paul Davidson would probably say many in my list are not Post Keynesian; many do not emphasize historical time.

Anonymous said...

Have You noticed that NOT ONE COPY of this book is available on abebooks?

Am I prone to conspiracy theorists or someone is making this book vanish?