Brenner on competition

James Farmelant farmelantj at
Wed Sep 16 08:55:22 PDT 1998

On Wed, 16 Sep 1998 10:20:32 -0400 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at> writes:

>Doug's problem--and I use the word advisedly--is that he has not fully
>grasped the seriousness of the situation. I have been reading LBO for
>over a decade and have been involved in public and private exchanges
>him for the better part of four years, so I am somewhat of an expert
>Doug's problem is that he has--without probably understanding it
>fully--tried to synthesize Marx and Keynes. From Marx, he appropriates
>analytical tools. Thus, his "Wall Street" is viewed universally as a
>magisterial treatment of the world of finance. But his political
>understanding owes much to standard Keynsianism with some Marxish
>phraseology. It amounts to a defense of welfare state measures,
>pump-priming, to reduce unemployment and build the self-confidence of
>working-class. This has very little to do with Marx, who was only
>interested in overthrowing all capitalist states, including "nice"
>like Sweden or the Netherlands. Of course, what sustains the niceness
>such welfare states is the plunder of the third world, especially its
>but I will leave that aside for the time being.

If Doug is indeed guilty of attempting to synthesize Marx with Keynes then he is not alone in his guilt. Take Lou Proyect's friends at Monthly Review, take Paul Sweezy for instance. Much of his earlier work can be interpreted as an attempt to synthesize Marx with Keynes. During his earlier career as an economist Sweezy was primarily concerned with two areas of debate in economics: (1) the theory of imperfect competition and (2) the issue of secular stagnation. As far as (1) is concerned Sweezy made important contributions to the development of a price theory under conditions of oligoply including most notably his well known kinked demand curve for commodities under oligopoly. As far as (2) is concerned Sweezy in his 1942 work *The Theory of Capitalist Development* among other things presented an underconsumptionist model of accumulation and crisis. He presented this model as an elaboration of Marx's theory of realisation crisis (i.e. of demand-side constraints on the accumulation process) but it obviously owed a good deal to the work of Keynes and his disciples. In other words he attempted to synthesize Marx with Keynes.

Furthermore, Paul Sweezy was in 1938 one of the authors and signatories of the influential Keynesian tract, *An Economic Program for American Democracy.* Besides Sweezy, the signatories such noted Keynesians as Paul Samuelson and J.K. Galbraith. Also, Sweezy besides teaching at Harvard also did work for a number of New Deal agencies.

To be sure the evolution of Paul Sweezy's economic thought did not stop in 1942. In Sweezy's earlier thought there was a separation between his theory of crisis and his his theory of the concentration and centralization. Josef Steindl in his critique of Sweezy pointed out how these two aspects of his economic thought could be integrated by drawing on Kalecki's model of capitalist dynamics. Sweezy in turn developed these insights into a new theory of monopoly capitalism that is presented in his 1964 work, *Monopoly Capital* which was very influential on the 1960s New Left.

Jim Farmelant

>Louis Proyect

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