Hoping against HOPE
from Susan Feiner
If you thought that the major journal in economics devoted to economic thought (History of Political Economy or HOPE) was devoted to thinking about the thoughts of the great thinkers in economics, you’d of thought wrong.
The latest issue of the journal arrived in yesterday’s mail. Cracked it open eagerly, hoping against HOPE, I scanned the TOC. For 15 years this journal hasn’t had an article on Marx! —no need to think about his thoughts, right?—so I smiled when I saw “Comparative Advantage and the Labor Theory of Value.”
First page. Ricardo. Not Marx. Oh well.
Flipped to the bibliography. What! No Steedman. An article in the leading field journal for historians of economic thought that completely overlooks the work of Ian Steedman? Come on.
It is just not possible that neither the editors nor the reviewers of this journal are ignorant of Steedman’s work. He’s no touchy feely “radical.” He deploys the math beloved of economists when it shows how markets set us free. But Steedman’s work shows the opposite. That trade between nations can lead to “negative gains” (or, for the untutored reader, losses). That is, under perfectly reasonable assumptions ‘free trade’ between nations may make both nations WORSE off.
WTF! This is the history of economic thought? Suggested new journal title: History of Willfully Ignorant Economics (HOWIE).
Kicking myself. Reflecting. The surprise passes. Comparative advantage is a staple of economist’s fantasies. ‘Trade theory’ rests on thinking about exchange under conditions of permanent full employment. Drop this assumption and there’s nothing left to talk about.
Exercise over. Final exam cancelled. Go home.