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International Socialism, Autumn 1966


Angus Hone

Skilled Works


From International Socialism, No.26, Autumn 1966, p.34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Theories of Economic Growth and Development
Irma Adelman
Stanford 15s.

Modern Capital Theory
Donald Dewey
Columbia 48s.

These two books taken together represent a detailed review of the theories of capital and economic growth from Adam Smith to Solow and Arrow. Capital theory is the basis of all the recent interest in problems of economic growth. The developing countries may suffer sociological and political blocks during their development process, but at bottom they suffer for a variety of reasons and have low capital productivity. The theory often means ‘the rigor mortis of reality’ because economics cannot yet handle the problems of technical progress, increasing returns to scale and ‘learning-by-doing.’

Adelman’s book is an attempt to treat the historical models of Smith, Ricardo, Marx et al with the formal apparatus of equations. Her merit is clarity, but the pursuit of clarity leads to comic results. Adam Smith often contradicted himself. The Wealth of Nations is better treated as the supreme achievement of the Scottish enlightenment in the field of political economy and not as a textbook. The insights are immense, but the contradictions in Smith’s political economy are as great as those in David Hume’s moral philosophy: no one would have suggested that Hume’s moral propositions could be reduced to logical propositions. Mrs Adelman ignores David Ricardo’s conflicting opinions. Those on population growth are documented in the volume of correspondence with Malthus in the Sraffa edition. Those on taxation are documented in Professor Carl Shoup’s volume Ricardo on Taxation. Both are completely ignored. Indeed Mrs Adelman refers only to volumes 1, 6 and 9 of Sraffa’s ten-volume collection. The problems of recognising conflicts in the literature becomes intense when Mrs Adelman grimly starts her chapter on Marx. There are no references to the Werke and she is unaware of the existence of Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations recently translated by Eric Hobsbawm.

We may all agree with Joan Robinson that ‘If Marx had been studied as a serious economist, instead of on the one hand as an infallible oracle and on the other as a butt for cheap epigrams, he would have saved us all a great deal of time,’ but the difficulties implied in such a treatment are enormous. Volume I of Capital is truly Marx’s work, but it would be interesting to know what policy Engels followed in the rejection and selection of material for parts of volumes II and III. Similarly the problems of linking the economic theories to the vast range of sociological and historical insights is very difficult and at many points Marxists will disagree not only with Mrs Adelman, but with Marx. Anthropologically primitive communism is a rare myth, and it is likely that the exploitation of groups of men by other groups began with Nutcracker man. The insights of Gordon Childe’s technological interpretations were not available to Marx. Similarly the hierarchy of labour and the consequences of rapidly growing demand for skilled labour were largely ignored by Marx. Marx tended to assume that changing technological relationships between the factors of production would perpetuate the economic relations between workers and capitalists that Marx saw in his analysis of the industrial revolution. The linkages between certain classes of capital and particular labour skills were not understood. Marx was too ready to look on the labour market as ‘a mass of human material always ready for exploitation’ (Capital, I, 963). Marx also failed to realise that demand would be drastically affected by the creation of the ‘industrial reserve army’ and that there was little possibility of ‘throwing great masses of men suddenly on the decisive points without injury to the scale of production in other spheres’ (Capital, I, 694-5). This lack of appreciation of skilled labour as a problem in capitalist development is evident in all the writings of Marx and Engels; even Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 contains only a weak discussion of this point, but the historical reality and need for diverse skills has been realised by all historians of the Chartists or the German Metalworkers’ Union. Mrs Adelman’s book can only be considered a partial success, but it is a fascinating study.

Donald Dewey writes entirely for professional economists or economists in the process of becoming professionals. It is in fact an ideal rite of initiation. Those who survive a reading will be admitted to the tribe. The book is clear and valuable, but the subject is so technical and the treatment required so formal that I can foresee no general readers for this volume, although they are mentioned in the publishers blurb. Dewey has written an excellent book, but W.H. Smiths will sell few copies to Orpington men in search of improvement.

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