[lbo-talk] MR on Kantorovich

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Wed Feb 8 06:15:51 PST 2017

This is what I wrote in an email about this to an acquaintance not long ago; ------------------------------------ Concerning the reference to myself in MR, that touches one of my areas of interest, namely the economics of socialism. A few years ago, Mark Lindley and myself wrote an article on Friedrich Hayek, who was one of the leading figures in the socialist calculation debates, with Hayek, of course, arguing that socialist economic planning could not, even in principle, ever be made to work, (https://www.academia.edu/3291616/The_Strange_Case_of_Dr._Hayek_and_Mr._Hayek).

This paper includes an appendix devoted specifically to the socialist calculation debates, including the well known debate between Hayek and Oskar Lange, as well as the less well known debate between Hayek and Otto Neurath. Given the recent upsurge of interest in socialism and left politics, all these issues seem to me to be well worth revisiting.

Concerning Kantorovich and Soviet economics, it should be noted that in the Soviet Union, the economics profession was divided into two branches: the political economists and the mathematical economists, with the great majority of Soviet economists being political economists. The political economists were trained mostly in the work of Marx & Engels, Lenin, and their successors. Most of them did not have much mathematical training and their published research made little use of mathematics. The mathematical economists on the other hand were trained very proficiently in higher mathematics and their work was very technical in nature. Leonid Kantorovich was one of the founding fathers of the Soviet school of mathematical economists and he would win both the Order of Lenin Medal and later the Nobel Prize in economics for his work as one of the founders of linear programming. One of their concerns was to try to make Soviet economic planning more rational and to that end they introduced a variety of optimization techniques which implicitly or explicitly relied upon marginalist economic ideas. So that way, a lot of neoclassical-type economic thinking was brought in.

One of my FB friends, Barkley Rosser, has said of his Russian-born wife, Marina Rosser, who was trained as an economist in the Soviet Union:

"There was a split between "political economy" and the more mathematical "cybernetics." She went through both, meaning she knows her Marx more than you or Doug Henwood or even Paul Cockshott do by a country mile, She can cite chapter and verse all the way down to the most minute detail any of you can come up with,, and in her heyday before the KGB arrested and tortured her she had access to the Marx-Engels library, which still exists, which was only accessible to very high level people like her who also did major translations of foreign authors, She learned western econ through courses on "Bourgeous theories of economics," some of these taught by westerners such as the late Lynn Turgeon who was the person who was responsible for us meeting, who gave me her phone number when I went in 1984 to Moscow and met her. He gave her away in our wedding, and I remain grateful to him, and we wrote a published paper with others about his work later. She had the best English of any of his students at MGU, and translated his lectures into English, which were later published as a book. After she got out she worked at the Institiitute for International Economics and Relations (IMEMOE, I might have its precise title wrong, although it still exists) which in the old days advised the Central Committee of the CPSU, and she was involved with its 25 year planning activity when I arrived in 1984 to disrupt her Soviet economic career, BTW, one of her students after she started working at IMEMO was the current Chair of the Russian Central Bank, and, well, enough for now..."

Jim Farmelant http://independent.academia.edu/JimFarmelant http://www.foxymath.com Learn or Review Basic Math

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