Summary and Critique of Radical Actions at the Economists Convention in New Orleans

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Summary and Critique of Radical Actions at the Economists Convention in New Orleans

by Bob Cherry

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 4, No. 2, March 1972, p. 11

At the American Economics Association (AEA) Convention in New Orleans the Union for Radical Political Economy (URPE) found many economists receptive to progressive ideas. On Monday we put out a leaflet challenging Paul Samuelson’s economics [see insert] and distributed it at a luncheon which was honoring him for winning the Nobel prize in economics. At the business meeting Tuesday a resolution of the Women’s Caucus, which was started by women in URPE, was passed. This resolution proposed positive steps towards ending sexist practices in the economics profession (discrimination in pay, hiring, acceptance to graduate school, and fringe benefits, as health insurance and maternity leave). It called for the initiation of a special commission which, among other things, would safeguard against sexist practices by publicly listing those schools which were found guilty of sexist practices. The resolution also called for the formation of a committee which would recommend reforms of the job placement procedures, including open listing of all jobs available. Previously, many of us in URPE felt that the overwhelming number of economists were reactionaries. We, therefore, concentrated more on providing professional information to the movement. However, the wide appeal our actions had has convinced many that we were mistaken in our approach to other economists.


  1. ON TAXATION: “As no one knows better than the man at the top, our system of progressive income taxation has already greatly changed the relative take-home andwhat is more importantthe ‘keep-at-home’ of the high and low paid.” (p.116) Comment in the light of statistics. If Gabriel Kolko is too radical a source, use government statistics.
  2. ABILITY AND INCOME: “A young person with high I.Q. and versatile talents who stays in a dull dead-end job or dying industry is similarly squandering his economic potential.” (p. 449) If there are barriers to advancement, implied in the graph (p. 116) showing income distribution more skewed than the normal curve distribution of ability, is “squandering” a value-free term?
  3. ABILITY AND INCOME, CONTINUED: Samuelson cites two possible explanations for decreasing mobility.” (1) There has long been social mobility in America: All the cream rose to the top some time ago … (2) There are strong and perhaps growing barriers to circulation between the economic classes … Whichever view is right, the implications for policy are the same.” (pp. 117–118) What implications for policy? Are these the only explanations? Critics charge that psychologizers like Jensen and Herrnstein, who bring forth unproven explanations of why poverty might be due to supposed genetic factors, are reinforcing racism. Relate to the “rising cream” view.
  4. ON OPPRESSION OF WOMEN: “The provision of schooling and the invention of the typewriter have done as much to emancipate women from the ancient domination of male chauvinists as all the hunger strikes of suffragettes or advanced plays of Ibsen and Shaw.” (p. 769) Is your typist emancipated? Why are so few men typists? Why are wages unequal for men and women at all educational levels (see Question 3)? Is the example of the man who reduced GNP by marrying his housekeeper a statistical quirk (p. 185), or does GNP reflect accurately the inferior position given by society to women’s household labor?

If URPE begins to fight within the AEA we will have to curtail some of our independent activities at the convention. This year we ran a full program. Not only did it limit our ability to leaflet for the business meeting and give out the Samuelson leaflet to many more attendees, but we were not able to confront some of the more reactionary AEA sessions. Another weakness of the convention was that we had limited political discussion of what we wanted to accomplish there. We had to rely more on spontaneous discussions and this also limited our effectiveness.

All in all, though, we think URPE’s actions were very positive. We reached many economists with our ideas and saw that they were very receptive. Also, an important resolution was passed and we successfully confronted an important bourgeois economist.

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