Economic Knowledge, Capitalist Mythologies About Supply and Demand, For Instance: How Economic Textbooks Have Come to Teach Students to Not Think about Labor Exploitation
Segal, Dan - Pitzer College

2011-02-10 16:10:00-05:00
Ann Arbor, MI - University of Michigan - Tisch Hall Room 1014
Duration: 01:53:06

Progressive commentators on our Great Recession-notably Paul Krugman and Charles Ferguson-have sought to link our recession to the rise of one school of economics ("efficient market theory"). This lecture argues that equally relevant are habits of thought that are common to the discipline as a whole. Segal focuses on the foundational role that "supply and demand curves" have come to play in undergraduate economics textbooks over the last half-century. Segal argues that the presentation of these curves fosters a misrecognition of the buying and selling of labor-time. Put simply, the textbook lessons present as the exemplar of "the market" a staged scene of barter in which the roles of buyer and seller are interchangeable. These textbook lessons thus keep off-stage the processes that yield profits for the buyers of labor-time. Very importantly, these allegorical points are carried by techniques of graphing that are presented as nothing less than the correct way to solve math problems. In addition, textbook lessons about "supply and demand" condition students to accept hypothetical data as evidentiary support for economic knowledge. In both of these ways, textbook economics fosters an uncritical understanding of actually existing capitalism.

Dan Segal is the Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and Professor of Historical Studies, and Director of the Munroe Center for Social Inquiry at Pitzer College


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