Contemporary Political Economy as a Utopian Project

Félix Boggio


Most of contemporary debates on political economy among the revolutionary left have involved an overpoliticization of theoretical discussion. The most salient discussion in Marxist circles is of course about the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF). The divide between underconsumptionist, sectoral unbalance and overaccumulation theories is deemed to be a debate between more authentically Marxist and revolutionary tendencies in economic theory. The adversary positions are irredeemably labeled as “keynesian”, meaning “reformist” and unmarxist in character.

By contrast, we wish to outline here a common thread in the field commonly known as “heterodox economics”. We will first assert that all heterodox currents are rooted in social et philosophical foundations which boil down to the concept of social relations of production. Three forms of separation, characterizing capitalist economies, will be sorted out, drawing from Balibar's seminal article in Reading Capital and Bettelheim's Economic Calculation and Forms of Property: relations of property, relations of possession, and commodity relations.

Our purpose is to show that each main current (either postkeynesian, marxist or institutionalist) has a specific understanding of those three forms of separation. What distinguishes one current from another is the status given to property, possession and commodity separations: one of them will be used as a device of economic modeling, the more mechanical notion of causal effects; another will be used in an interpretative narrative that underpins the choice of variables, actors and behaviors; and another one is a more fantomatic “cause of causes”, a structural constrain of all explanations. Our thrust will be to show that, through each of these “absent causes”, each current elaborate its own utopian project: a resolution of an irreducible contradiction in capitalism.

We will argue then that Political Economy does not need to be more or less “revolutionary”, but has to be understood as a cognitive mapping project, dialectically projecting utopian knowledge on the totality of the capitalist system of production.

Economics - Political Economy - TRPF - Heterodox Economics