Karl Marx & the Great Beyond

I peruse through the many Grad School catalogs that end up in my inbox when I have nothing better to do, As a Sociology guy focused on Political Economy, I notice that Economics Departments have one big thing in common with Sociology: they both teach Marxian Economics. Yet, Sociology departments tend to stop at Marx, which may (or may not) explain why Sociologists don’t have much to say about current economic issues, like employment, labor equality, or theory building on a macro level.

As an undergrad, I cut my teeth on Marxian economics, and I dove into areas of Marx that most Sociology undergrads don’t touch. It made me thirsty for more. When it comes to “Das Capital”, I’m not a big fan of Marx. He had a lot of great insights and ideas, but always seemed to miss the mark. His point was well taken though; there had to be a happy medium of labor equality.

As a Human Resource Manager engaged in thirst quenching efforts, I searched for the same answer as Marx; labor equality, and came across John Maynard Keynes. I studied him, and while I couldn’t grasp his mathematical modeling without a more advanced degree, I saw his ideas clearly; Capitalism could work for everyone with a little tweaking. This of course, led me to Adam Smith, and I read Wealth of Nations on my own (My wife called it Economic Pornography).

Many Sociologists say that they “specialize” in Political Economy, and this is certainly true. However, I find that it’s more on a micro level; the plight of farmers, the end of Unions in America, the role of gender in the workplace, Race issues in Labor, etc. They are all very good areas, and address Social problems well. They are all political hot-button issues. What they don’t do is dive into the “deep dish” economics of their issues.

On the flip side, in Economics, nothing irritates me more (as a Sociology guy) than the fact that Microeconomics assumes human behavior, rather than studying it. For example, in Income Substitution Theory, it is assumed that humans think work is bad while leisure is good. It never bothered to study the fact that most humans see work as a Socializing event that humans (as social creatures) actually WANT to engage in. How do we know this? Because Social Psychology has actually studied it.I know, I know….Economic models couldn’t work under the unpredictability of human behavior, but that’s why models collapse.

On the Macro level, Economists seem to be doing the job of the Sociologist (see Stiglitz, Krugman, Bernanke, Yellen, etc), while Sociologists have gone so far “micro”, that they are many times doing the job of Psychology (see Labor, Environmental, & Organizational Psychology for good comparisons/examples).

Economics has Social consequences, and Social policy (often times) has economic consequences. When it comes to the true macro social issues of economy, this has traditionally been the role of Sociologists. Falling short, Keynesian Economics has picked up a lot of slack. It would be nice if Sociology Departments started teaching at least a gloss-over of Smith, Keynes, and some neoclassical staples, while it would be nice if Economic Departments required some Sociology.

The lesson is that whether you’re Economics guy, or a Sociology guy, it’s important to search for answers from the Great Beyond.

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