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New Left Review I/86, July-August 1974


Bob Rowthorn

Neo-Classicism, Neo-Ricardianism and Marxism

This essay will discuss the system of thought known as Neo-classical economics, the criticisms made of this system by the Neo-Ricardian school, and finally and especially, the relationship of Neo-Ricardianism to Marxism. The treatment of Neo-classical and Neo-Ricardian economics has been made deliberately general, in order to keep the argument clear and avoid confusion. At present academic economics in the capitalist world is in a state of confusion, as its dominant system of thought—Neo-classicism—comes under attack. Despite the elaborate mathematical reformulations it has undergone in recent years, this kind of economics differs very little in its fundamentals from what Marx, a century or more ago, contemptuously described as ‘vulgar economy’—the systematization of what is immediately visible in the sphere of market relations: individual preferences, prices and exchange. Throughout this paper, therefore, the terms ‘vulgar economy’ and ‘neoclassical economics’ will be used interchangeably. Vulgar economy can be characterized in the most general terms as follows. [1] For sophisticated expositions of Neo-classical theory, see K. Arrow and F. Hahn, General Competitive Analysis, Edinburgh 1971, and G. Debreu, Theory of Value, New York, 1959. For cruder versions, see C. Ferguson, The Neo-Classical Theory of Production and Distribution, Cambridge 1969, or virtually any conventional economics textbook.

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