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The Racism of the Marginal Utility Theorists

Posted by Steve Palmer on May 22, 2009

There’s a PhD thesis in this, somewhere. While working on Early English Debates in Marxist Value Theory, I needed to add some notes to the piece by Foxwell to explain who Stanley Jevons, Alfred Marshall and Henry Sidgwick were. Of course, you can always peer in the Wikipedia … but you won’t find this there.

I pulled down my copies of Jevons Theory of Political Economy (Kelly’s 1965 reprint) and Marshall’s Principles of Political Economy (Macmillan’s 1966 ‘Papermac’ edition) and poked around a bit.

W. Stanley Jevons is well known as the economist famous for ‘proving’ that sunspots are responsible for crises. Bourgeois economists don’t crow about that, for some reason. He also ‘proved’ that “labour is never the cause of value” through developing a marginal utility theory of value. Discussing the productivity of labour, he casually throws out this remark: “Persons of an energetic disposition feel labour less painful than they otherwise would, and, if they happen to be endowed with various and acute sensibilities, their desire of further acquisition never ceases. A man of lower race, a negro for instance, enjoys possession less, and loathes labour more; his exertions, therefore, soon stop. A poor savage would be content to gather the almost gratuitous fruits of nature, if they were sufficient to give sustenance; it is only physical want that drives him to exertion.” Theory of Political Economy, (5th edition, New York, 1965), pp182-183. Ask your nearest bourgeois economist if s/he agrees or not. Compare and contrast Marx: “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” Jevons would be quite comfortable with the branding iron, apparently.

Jevons was also intellectually gutless and never defended his theory in debate with defenders of the law of labour value: when Hyndman addressed the Political Economy group of the National Liberal Club, he invited Jevons to debate with him. Jevons never showed.

Alfred Marshall was Professor Economics at Cambridge University. His Principles of Economics used to be the ‘Bible’, as Foxwell might put it, of neo-classical vulgar economy. Although I read parts of it many years ago, I had embarassingly missed the fact that it oozes race theory from every pore and is riddled with anxiety about ‘degeneration’ of the human race. Eg. “on the Pacific Slope, there were at one time just grounds for fearing that all but highly skilled work would be left to the Chinese; and that the white men would live in an artificial way in which a family became a great expense. In this case Chinese lives would have been substituted for American, and the average quality of the human race would have been lowered.”(Principles, 8th edition, IV.V.23n73). Or, “conquering races generally incorporated the women of the conquered; they often carried with them many slaves of both sexes during their migrations, and slaves were less likely than freemen to be killed in battle or to adopt a monastic life. In consequence nearly every race had much servile, that is mixed blood in it: and as the share of servile blood was largest in the industrial classes, a race history of industrial habits seems impossible.” (Ibid,.IV.V.7 n65) We also meet the clever but cunning and slippery money-dealing Jew: Ricardo’s “aversion to inductions and his delight in abstract reasonings are due, not to his English education, but, as Bagehot points out, to his Semitic origin. Nearly every branch of the Semitic race has had some special genius for dealing with abstractions, and several of them have had a bias towards the abstract calculations connected with the trade of money dealing, and its modern developments; and Ricardo’s power of threading his way without slip through intricate paths to new and unexpected results has never been surpassed. But it is difficult even[!!! SP] for an Englishman to follow his track” (Appendix B.19 n44). It makes one want to vomit, doesn’t it. There’s page after page of this stuff. It is completely fitting that this book should have served as the economics textbook of the English ruling class during their period of imperial domination. Perish the thought that the theories of Marx (who was, after all, of ‘the Semitic race’) should be superior to this member of the master-race!

Sidgwick, too, had concerns for the relationship between ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ races, though he seems to have been more optimistic than Marshall about the influence good ‘tutelage’ could have on ‘inferior races’. Marshall described him as his “spiritual mother and father.”

Now there’s a couple of facts your Professor never taught you …


Posted in Bourgeois Ideology, Dumb Sh*t, Dunce, Own Goal, Political Economy, Racism | Leave a Comment »

Early English Debates in Marxist Value Theory

Posted by Steve Palmer on May 22, 2009

Before Marx’s Capital was translated into English, it was already being trashed by reformists in Britain. Energised mainly by George Bernard Shaw, the assault developed relentlessly from the early 1880s. With the help of Ted Crawford, who helped dig out and transcribe a number of the articles from the archives, I have now added Building the Fabian Church of the Future – Early English Debates on the Marxist Theory of Value to the Marxist Internet Archive.

The debate began when the Reverend Philip Wicksteed published a criticism in October 1884 of the Marxist explanation of value, using Marginal Utility Theory.  Shaw responded, but, a better clown than a Marxist, got soundly drubbed by Wicksteed’s Rejoinder. Shaw was already migrating away from Marxism and “the upshot was that I put myself into Mr. Wicksteed’s hands and became a convinced Jevonian”. Thenceforth, a series of skirmishes took place between the Fabians and the British Marxists (mainly Hyndman).

I’m not going to rehearse the entire debate – you can do that yourself – but the significance this debate has today includes:

  1. The recognition that the issue of value is central to Marxism. Without it, it crumbles. As a contributor to the Leipzig Literarischen Centralblatt of July 4 1868 remarked:  “Rejecting the theory of value is the only task facing anyone who opposes Marx; for if one concedes this axiom, then one must grant Marx nearly all the conclusions based on it, which he reaches by applying the strictest logic.” Marx ‘My Plagiarism of BastiatCollected Works, 20, p216.
  2. The debate made all the main points which have been repeated ever since (except for the ‘Transformation Problem’)  in a condensed form. It therefore serves as a economical exercise to test one’s understanding of the law of value.
  3. It demonstrates the political importance of what might seem abstract economic debates.

The best criticism of the whole Marginal School is made by Bukharin in his Economic Theory of the Leisure Class, available, of course, at the MIA.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it is to identify all the key criticisms made by Wicksteed, Foxwell and Co and develop responses.

Posted in Bourgeois Ideology, Political Economy | Leave a Comment »

Niwdog’s Law

Posted by Steve Palmer on January 18, 2009

Godwin’s Law, as every good geek knows, predicts that discussions on the internet arrive at a point where someone accuses someone of being ‘almost as … as’, ‘as … as’ or ‘even …er than’ Hitler. Whoever does this first wins the discussion and the accusee loses, and the discussion is over.

It seems there’s a special inverted variant of this for Zionists – Niwdog’s Law. If you’re pro-Israeli and Israelis are busy blowing hundreds of children to pieces, it’s not very smart to start accusing others of being Nazis. So instead anyone who criticises Israel is accused of being ‘anti-semitic’, a holocaust supporter, card carrying member of the National Socialist Party, crypto-fascist  etc etc etc. Unlike Godwin’s law, where debate has to be allowed to develop and only one player hurl’s the Hitlerite comparison, Niwdog’s Law must be used before serious discussion – preferably before any discussion – of Israel begins. Once the accusation has been made, all players except the accusee are expected to immediately agree with the accusation and repeat it. If they don’t, then they themselves fall victim to Niwdog’s Law since silence clearly indicates agreement. Penalties include angst and guilt over whether one really is anti-semitic, loss of friends, acquaintances and spouses, stigmatisation, loss of job, physical beatings and death.

Niwdog’s Law is actually stronger than Godwin’s Law and its only know antidote. In any discussion on Israel, if someone applies Godwin’s Law, for example by suggesting that Israeli action is reminiscent of Nazi blitzkriegs then the accusee or an ally can immediately counter with Niwdog’s Law, accusing the accuser of anti-semitism.

Furthermore, it completely covered in Teflon. If you suggest that someone is following Niwdog’s Law, that suggestion itself is prima facie evidence that you should be Niwdoged. Only someone who is truly anti-semitic could possibly make such a suggestion. The Catch-22 of all Catch 22s.

Posted in Bourgeois Ideology, Racism, Zionism | Leave a Comment »

More Israelis killed in road accidents than by Hamas

Posted by Steve Palmer on January 8, 2009

I decided to check out how dangerous Hamas attacks on Israel really are.

Turns out that Israeli drivers are MUCH more dangerous than Hamas:

Year Killed
in Road Accidents
by terrorist attacks”
2000 421 43
2001 475 247
2002 456 453
2003 418 212
2004 428 118
2005 381 54
2006 373 29
2007 351 13

Sources: Statistical Abstract of Israel (various years) and
Anti-Israeli Terrorism in 2007 and its Trends in 2008

When we flip to the 2008 Abstract’s Table 3.30, we find the following causes of death for 2005 (latest available year):

Cause of Death – selected Number of Deaths
Breast Cancer
Transport Accidents
Intentional Self-Harm
Mental and
behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use
“Killed by Terrorist
Gastric and Dudenal

Comment seems superfluous.

Finally, a letter from the Jerusalem Post a few years ago by a visitor to Israel:

Competing risks and realities

American leaders have stressed the importance of leading normal lives in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Travel, shop, eat out, and take in that movie.

But what if your normal life includes regular trips to Israel? The US State Department has issued a warning urging Americans, for their own safety, not to go there.

One cannot deny that, with help from the media, Israel is perceived as a dangerous place due to the threat of terrorism. Indeed, while recently in Israel giving talks and attending a conference, I received numerous e-mails from colleagues and friends worrying for my safety, admonishing me to avoid public places, or otherwise urging me to watch out. I truly appreciate such genuine expressions of concern, but they stem from the aforementioned perception that Israel is much more dangerous than America. A simple review of available data, however, suggests the opposite.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, during the 442 days from the beginning of the current Palestinian intifada until the end of December, 2001, 120 Israelis were killed by terrorist suicide bombings, shootings, hit-and-runs, stabbings, or other means within “Israel proper,” that is, not including terror victims in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

All of these murders are tragic, and I do not intend in any way to make light of them here. However, given that 6.3 million people reside within Israel proper, these deaths work out to an annual personal risk of death from terrorism of 16 in one million, within the boundaries of Israel proper, which would be the destination of most visitors.

Is this a big risk or a little risk? Let’s compare first with the risk of death from motor vehicle accidents in Israel, since one thing tourists do is travel around. Again, excluding the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports 461 traffic fatalities during the 2000 calendar year. This adds up to an annual personal risk of 73 per one million, which is nearly four times higher than the risk of death from terrorism.

So what, you say – this makes Israel look worse! Look again. The 2000 Statistical Abstract of the United States reports that about 41,500 traffic fatalities have occurred in each of the past several years in the US. With a population of 286 million people, the annual personal risk of death from a motor vehicle accident in the United States is 145 per one million.

That’s right – the personal risk of road death is nearly twice as high in the United States as in Israel. And the risk of road death in the United States is nearly eight times higher than the risk of death from terrorism in Israel! Since we Americans readily accept the 145 per million risk of road death without worry, why has the US State Department warned us not to travel to Israel?

Let’s put this into an even more direct perspective. My recent visit to Israel was one week in duration. Since I did not enter the West Bank or Gaza, my combined probability of dying from either terrorism or a car crash on this visit equaled 1.7 in one million.

Had I followed the State Department’s guidance and canceled my visit to Israel, I would have instead enjoyed a 2.8 in one million chance of being killed in a motor vehicle accident at home. In other words, for those keeping score, my death risk would have been 65 percent higher in the US than in Israel.

And I have neglected to note my 23 combined hours flying El Al, one of the safest activities available within the limits of Earth’s atmosphere. It seems that the most dangerous thing I did on this trip was drive from New Haven to JFK Airport!

Perceived risks govern human behavior more than actual risks, and the elevated perceived risk of terror in Israel relative to the actual danger is no exception. I know of at least two canceled academic meetings and a third that is in jeopardy due to the perceived danger of holding such events in Israel. To the extent that terrorism relies on this psychology of fear, such cancellations are victories for the terrorists. And, while the fate of academic events is important to me, this is nothing compared to the economic losses Israel faces from the drop in tourism and other business revenues.

When the US State Department issues travel warnings, many people listen. If citizen safety is the goal, perhaps the State Department should urge all of us Americans to stop driving. But then, wouldn’t that conflict with the goal of leading a normal life?

The Jerusalem Post – January 8, 2002
Edward H. Kaplan

(The writer is the William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Management Sciences, Yale University.)

Posted in Bourgeois Ideology, Dumb Sh*t, Imperialism, Zionism | 2 Comments »