Responses to Readers — Austrian Economics Versus Marxism

Some readers have expressed interest in the Austrian School of economics. What is the Austrian School, and what is its role?

The Austrian School is a branch of marginalist economics. It differs from the other schools of marginalism by avoiding mathematics. Instead, it specializes in advocating marginalist ideas in ordinary language. In contrast, most of the other schools of modern marginalism specialize in building mathematical models that are only accessible to those who have mastered the necessary higher mathematics.

The reason why the Austrian School avoids math is that unlike most professional economists they aim their arguments at the “non-mathematical” lay public. The Austrian School—as its name implies—began in German-speaking Austria. As a result, it soon found itself in intense ideological combat with the Marxist-led Austrian workers’ movement. While most marginalists simply ignored Marx, the Austrian School attempted to refute him.

The Austrians specialize in demoralizing intellectuals attracted to the workers’ movement, attempting to steer them toward reactionary bourgeois economics and politics instead.

Since they concentrate on refuting Marx, they are frequently somewhat more familiar with Marxist ideas than are most professional bourgeois economists. As intellectuals they love to play with ideas, and have in fact absorbed certain ideas from Marx, which they use for their own purposes. Undoubtedly, Austrian economic theory was influenced by the Austro-Marxist School and the Austro-Marxists were, in turn, influenced by the ideas of the Austrian School. I will examine some of these mutual influences below.

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Announcement Regarding Future Posts — Topics and Schedule

The series of posts that I began in January is now complete. Readers have submitted comments on a number of these. Because of the pressure of adhering to the weekly schedule I set for myself, I have not been able as yet to respond to many of the good questions raised and suggestions made in these comments.

Beginning with my next post, scheduled for Sunday after next (December 20, 2009), and continuing on a biweekly schedule, I will be focusing on comments submitted by readers of this blog.

The first of this new series will be a post on the Austrian School of bourgeois economics, suggested in a reader’s comment on this post.

I encourage readers to submit more comments to enable a clarifying exchange on Marxist economic theory, the current economic crisis and the future of capitalism.

Sam Williams

Factors that Limit the Life Span of the Capitalist System

In this final post in the series that began in January 2009, I will summarize the various factors that make impossible the permanent existence of the capitalist system of production.

First, let’s examine the effects of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Many Marxists see this tendency as the crucial factor that dooms the capitalist system to perish in the long run.

Capitalism is above all a system of production for profit and only profit. But Marx showed that with the growth of the productivity labor—expressed under capitalism by a rise of the organic composition of capital—the rate of profit tends to fall. A major contradiction of capitalism is that though it is a system of production for profit its very development tends to lower the rate of profit. Doesn’t this make the downfall of capitalism inevitable sooner or later.

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