ZNet Interviews Robin Hahel

(1) Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, The ABCs of Political Economy, is about? What is it trying to communicate?

The ABCs of Political Economy: A Modern Approach (Pluto Press, November 2002) is an introduction to modern, radical, political economy. It presumes no prior economics background. It provides a radical framework for understanding the relationship between economic and political, gender, and racial dynamics. It defines and defends progressives core values: economic democracy, economic justice, solidarity, and environmental sustainability. It teaches readers the essential concepts for understanding how markets work, where unemployment and inflation come from, the logic of monetary and fiscal policy, the relationship between the financial and real sectors of the economy, and how international trade and investment affect participating economies. In particular it focuses on rebutting myths about capitalism perpetuated by mainstream economics. In the last two chapters The ABCs of Political Economy explains why capitalism is inherently undemocratic, unfair, and environmentally destructive, and what can be done in both the short and long run to replace the economics of competition and greed with the economics of equitable cooperation.

(2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
This book has been percollating for three decades. A few years back I taught an introductory course on political economy on ZNet’s Left On Line University where I posted lectures every week and engaged in discussion with activists taking the course via email. Some of the core material originated in those “on-line” lectures. Much of the material is the distillation of teaching introduction to economics and political economy at American University for over a quarter century. In that context I have watched most of my fellow academic political economists abandon large parts of the traditional Marxist theoretical framework and struggle over what to replace it with. Of course a few have refused to abandon any part of the Marxist framework. Many others have abandoned their radical  perspective along with the Marxist framework — throwing out the baby with the bath water. I have long been convinced that we can retain and expand upon the radical insights of Marxism without clinging to outdated and illogical theories. I believe The ABCs of Political Economy offers the non-professional audience a modern replacement for historical materialism, the labor theory of value, and Marxist crisis theory that is a vast improvement over the old theory. A great deal of the last two chapters is based on decades of thinking and writing about participatory economics.

(3) What are your hopes for The ABCs of Political Economy? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
Personally, I hope The ABCs of Political Economy answers many of the questions I get not only from my students at American University, but from activists who email me daily, asking me to explain — from a radical perspective — how some part of the economy or some policy recommendation works. I plan to keep an earmarked copy of the book next to my computer so I can type in a few page numbers, hit the reply key, and get back to my own work more quickly! More seriously, I hope the book helps progressive minded people sharpen their thinking about economic issues. I hope it helps progressives clarify what they mean by economic democracy, economic justice, economic efficiency, and environmental sustainability so they better understand what will accomplish those goals, and what will not. I hope it will prevent progressives with little or no economics background from backing down from debates with people with more formal economic training who tell them they should accept hierarchy and injustice because there is no alternative. I hope it will help people whose values I share become more proficient at doing their own economic analysis. This is a book that teaches people with humane instincts how to think more clearly about economics.

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