Saturday, 20 August 2016

Marx's Boils and Brad DeLong.

Readers may be surprised to learn that, as a Marxist, I never felt great interest for Karl Marx, the man (not exactly Robert Paul Wolff's attitude, but not that different, either).

That's why having read recently that Marx was afflicted (in his old age?) by frequent boils was a bit of a revelation to me. Having once had a big and very visible abscess in my right thigh, I can put myself in Marx's shoes.

I remember that boil, too: blood, pus, redness, warmth. Neither a pretty sight, nor fatal -- evidently -- although undeniably uncomfortable.


Those memories resurfaced graphically while skimming over John Kenneth Galbraith's otherwise promising 1977 history of economic thought, "The Age of Uncertainty". After a rather interesting exposition, in chapter 7 ("The Mandarin Revolution", containing a brief biographical profile of John Maynard Keynes), I found this (emphasis added):
"Churchill held —- where I confess escapes me -— that great men usually have unhappy childhoods. At both Eton and Cambridge, Keynes, by his own account and that of his contemporaries, was exceedingly happy. The point could be important. Keynes never sought to change the world out of any sense of personal dissatisfaction or discontent. Marx swore that the bourgeoisie would suffer for his poverty and his carbuncles. Keynes experienced neither poverty nor boils. For him the world was excellent". (pp. 197-198)
Given his intellectual reputation, I suppose one can give Galbraith the benefit of the doubt and assume he intended that as a humorous comment, not to be taken too seriously.

Regardless, experience shows bourgeois economists enjoy taking a dig at the old Moor. Any pretext will do. In fact, that is commonplace, almost as a ritual way to signal their membership in the Very Serious Person Club (a mix of freemasons' "secret" handshakes and hippie bashing), which, in the case of Keynesian economists, goes hand in hand with lionising Our Lord (or carefully managing His image).

Then it dawned on me. Galbraith's intended witticism  -- formulaic, therefore tedious -- is rather like Marx's chronic boils: an annoying pimple in the nose; hardly fatal.


Enter Brad DeLong. Tired -- perhaps -- of playing second fiddle to Nobel laureate and John Bates Clark medallist Paul Krugman as top online Keynesian VSP ("Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little", Gore Vidal supposedly said), DeLong apparently decided to stick to his less glamorous day job: teaching. With that in mind, he assembled a reading list on Marxism for post-Millennials (an upcoming UC-Berkeley for-credit PhD econ course, surely?), featuring prominently the best of his own abundant academic research, as expertly peer-reviewed and published in his own blog.

One should congratulate DeLong for finding a goal better suited to his capabilities: to be the big, fat, swollen, infected, throbbing, suppurating carbuncle in the ass of Marx.

Irritating? Certainly. Fatal? Nah. Besides, there's a silver lining: I'd guess some members of the online post Keynesian/MMT community may finally experience tertiary education!


More good news: A TSSI vs DeLong debate looks out of the question. With characteristic chivalry, DeLong seems intent on sparing Andrew Kliman and Alan Freeman the hard time. ;-)

Phew! Lucky them.


  1. wow. as an australian, i know now why you call yourself the magpie. well done.
    i _almost_ feel sorry for that guy. _almost_
    - the birdwatcher oo

    1. You know how it is, Birdwatcher: springtime is just around the corner. :-)

      "oo" ??

      I'll reply to your(?) second comment later.

  2. btw, you ain't gonna make to many friends with the internet po-keys.
    - the oo

    1. But I think you misjudge them online Po-Keys. They'll enjoy being treated with contempt; they are used to that. They believe in a class-based society, where their betters are free to look down on them. Well, I know how it's done and I'm happy to indulge: I used to be one of those shitting on their heads.

      They know how to pretend they don't notice their contempt; they crave their approval and the satisfaction of being patted in the head. They are like Uncle Tom (singularly appropriate name, given the circumstances).

      The thing is, they may crave their betters' approval and friendship and respect, but their betters don't need their friendship (and, for what it is worth, I don't want it).

      We could have it all, but to get it they would need to grow some balls first. Therefore, they are ready to believe the first snake-oil salesman coming along telling them there's an easy, painless, safe way to achieve a better society (remember Syriza and Podemos? Donald Trump?). As long as we are "realistic" and reasonable and humbly beg for what is ours, as long as we agree on being robbed and spat on, we shall get something, until not even the crumbles we were promised trickle down anymore.

      They'll learn. It's going to be slow and painful and degrading for all of us, but their betters will teach them. There's plenty time.


      I've got the "oo" now. :-)

      I also liked the "po-keys". If you don't mind, I'll adopt it, too.

    2. with global warming and mass extinction? it could be too late already. they better learn on the double.
      be my guest and use the po-key
      - the oo

    3. "with global warming and mass extinction? it could be too late already. they better learn on the double."

      Point taken. I've neglected that.

      I don't think that can be solved under capitalism, let alone with the "little-by-little", social-democratic (I prefer social-demagogic) approach.

      In fact, even under centrally-planned socialism it could be difficult to solve that. Perhaps we are already fucked and the best we can hope is to avoid greater damage.