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Re-reading Marx - New Perspectives after the Critical Edition

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Tony Smith, Iowa State University - Machinery, Productivity Gains, and Capitalist Ideology: An Examination of Marx's 1861-63 Manuscripts

The productivity gains associated with innovations in machinery play as crucial a role in capitalist ideology as the formal freedom and equality of economic agents and the alleged allocative efficiency of the system.

The first section of this paper will briefly overview contemporary mainstream works exemplifying this ideology, such as Elhanan Helpman's The Mystery of Economic Growth, William Lewis' The Power of Productivity, and Benjamin Friedman's The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.

Section two will turn to Marx's recently published account of machinery in the 1861-63 manuscripts, presenting the main points of agreement between Marx and the apologists considered previously.

The third section will argue that despite these points of agreement the discussion of machinery in the 61-63 manuscripts demolishes the ideology of productivity. Developing this claim will require an investigation of both ontological matters (Machinery is constant capital. But what is capital?) and the structural tendencies necessarily arising when machinery takes the social form of constant capital.

The final section of the paper will compare and contrast the account of machinery in the 61-63 manuscripts with that found in Volume 1 of Capital.

My preliminary hypothesis is that there were no major substantive changes in Marx's position on the crucial issues, although a considerable number of stylistic and organizational changes did take place.