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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars valuable, although somewhat dated, July 18, 2008
"Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical" is meant to introduce readers to Marxian economic reasoning by comparing it to neoclassical economics. Since this book was written over twenty years ago, it is inevitably somewhat dated. However, it still achieves its main goal very well. Anyone willing to learn about this important tradition should find this book valuable.

The book has four chapters. Chapter 1 provides the context for the comparison, Chapter 2 deals with neoclassical theory, Chapter 3 presents Marxian theory, and finally, Chapter 4 wraps it all up by discussing the importance of theoretical differences. Quite predictably, most of the action happens in chapters 2 and 3 while the rest only fulfills an ancillary function.

In Chapter 2 the authors assume basic familiarity with neoclassical economics and go on to discuss the logical structure of this particular theory: its entry points, its logic and how it links the entry points to everything else. According to Wolff and Resnick, neoclassical theory has three main entry points: preferences, resource endowments and technology. Moreover, its logic is determinist with clear causes and effects. The authors proceed using this determinist logic to show how neoclassical entry points (or "essences") lead to certain outcomes in factor (labour, capital) and commodity markets. This discussion of neoclassical theory serves as a backdrop for the later discussion of Marxian theory. The chapter also provides a very brief section with criticisms of neoclassical theory and a section on "the challenge of Keynes". This is easily the weakest part of the book. It is less accessible than the rest as well as visibly dated: as a result of the Keynes section, rational expectations school occupies the only Appendix of this chapter. Needless to say, much has happened since, including the New Keynesian response to rational expectations.

Chapter 3 starts by assuming no familiarity with Marxian theory and goes on to cover its logical structure and its applications. The authors emphasize that there are many Marxian theories and that the one presented in this book is just the one that they found the most persuasive. Its entry point is class - a process during which surplus product of laborers is appropriated by someone else. The logic of this particular Marxian theory is overdeterminist meaning that various processes (cultural, economic, political, natural) are both cause and effect at the same time and continually influence each other. That means that class is not an "essence" like neoclassical entry points, i.e. it does not cause other things. Choice of class as an entry point is justified by saying it has been overlooked in social analysis. This chapter is brilliant. Youtube features an hour long interview with one of the authors - Richard Wolff. In that interview, Wolff often stresses the importance of pedagogy and commitment to teaching. This chapter illustrates his personal position very well - although it is full of technical theoretical language, the exposition remains lucid and engaging.

Long story short, "Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical" is a good way to get acquainted with Marxian analysis.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading..., January 2, 2011
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I was going to provide a lengthy, in depth review comparing and contrasting neoclassical theory and Marxian theory as presented in this book but it looks like Matt has already done precisely that so I will limit myself to a more modest review.

There are a number of reasons that I consider this book to be a truly worthwhile read. Just like Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences by Steve Keen (another book I highly recommend) this book provides a really excellent summary of neoclassical economic theory and the foundations of neoclassical economic theory. This is a good book to read as a supplement to the standard intermediate economics textbooks as it lays down the philosophical foundations of neoclassical economic theory more explicitly than is often done in the textbooks (the purpose of course being to contrast these philosophical foundations with the philosophical foundations of Marxian economic theory).

This book also provides a really interesting interpretation of Marxian economic theory. Marxians are a notoriously heterogenous bunch and I have a feeling that many Marxians would take issue with the Marxian theory presented in this book. But there is one aspect of Wolff and Resnick's interpretation that I found to be especially compelling. The Marxian theory of base and superstructure is often presented in a really reductionistic way which many people find to be an especially unappealing aspect of Marx's thought. In this reductionistic reading the economic base of society, or the dominant mode of production, is the determinative and real factor within society while every other aspect of society and cultural expression is merely an ideological reflection of the economic base. This interpretation also tends to be determinstic. Wolff and Resnick replace this notion with the notion of overdetermination. Overdetermination means that every aspect of society both determines and is determined by every other aspect of society. This allows Wolff and Resnick to contrast Marxian theory with Neoclassical theory which they take to be a form of essentialism (economic phenomena are determined by the 'essences' of individual preferences, resource endowments, and the production function).

One of the interesting implications of Wolff and Resnick's theory of overdetermination is that no theory can ever be a complete representation of reality since there are literally an infinite number of influences acting in an infinite number of directions. Every theory, in order to be coherent, has to start somewhere. Neoclassical theory starts with individual preferences, resource endowments and technological capability, while Marxian theory (as presented by Wolff and Resnick) begins with class and class processes. Neither theory is complete but Wolff and Resnick's theory of overdetermination provides an opportunity to assign a relative validity to both theories. Reducing the animosity that often exists between theorists working within different frameworks seems to be one of the goals of this book. The animosity between theorists working within different traditions often seems to result from the theorist's propensity to treat their own particular theory as 'absolute'. Wolff and Resnick's theory of overdetermination allows for a more pluralistic view by relativizing every theory. This seems to be one of the primary motivations of the book and one of the primary reasons I think it is worth reading whether you agree with the details of Wolff and Resnick's intepretations of Marx or not. Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For teaching and sharing and understanding, April 21, 2012
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This review is from: Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical (Paperback)
There is a certain audience for this book, and I feel that it must have grown larger since its initial printing in 1987. When the standard model fails, there is an instinct to reach for alternatives to that standard model for a lot of people. What is strange is that it also is a time for defensiveness and retrenchment, so that instead of looking at alternatives, you reinvest everything you have in the failed model. For economics, for these authors (and this reviewer) that alternative is Marxian economics. It has been so appealing that at last a new edition of this text will be published in the fall of 2012 by MIT Press.

This version has never been out of print in its quarter-century though, and reading it will show you evidence for its longevity. The first 124 pages can be pulled out and stand alone as an introductory text for economics as it is currently taught at the 101 level. The authors understand and explain the orthodox so well it feels like one of the Alfred Marshall Texts.

The second part is a clear, mostly jargon-free description of Marxian economics that is much more accessible than handing someone a single volume of Capital. The authors are able to show the logic behind Marx's analysis of capitalism and his intellectual torch-bearers. The most true thing I can say about this book, and the one that is the highest praise I can bring, is that I wanted to use this book as a teaching text. The only issue is that the Marxian economics don't lend themselves to problems sets as easily as neoclassical problems. There are equations, but you don't end up with the nice charts and graphs that demand curves. I wanted to share this with students and show that there are true alternatives to the status quo, not just tinkering at the edges of the models.

My only quarrel is that the authors touch lightly on Keynesian economic theories. The Keynesian theories and their intellectual children represent the furthest left edge in the discourse today - and by excluding them, the authors set up what may be construed as a false binary: a or b; not a as part of a continuum containing also b.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent comparisons and contrasts, June 21, 2013
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This review is from: Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical (Paperback)
I learned a lot about the US economic system I had not known before. I think everyone could learnfrom this well-written book by master teachers of eonomics.
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Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical
Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical by Richard D. Wolff (Paperback - August 1, 1987)
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