Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dobb on Hutt

To use the ideas of others as ninepins*  to one's game is an excellent mode of exposition. But the ninepins must be ascetically chosen as such and the attack on them subordinated strictly to the general strategy of the game. Moreover, if one handles them to this purpose, one needs to do more than justice to one's adversaries-to give to their words more logic than the words actually hold. Otherwise the game is apt to be too cheaply purchased. This Mr. Hutt does not always do. And one is left with the feeling that zeal for his thesis often causes his exposition to do less than justice to his predecessors' meaning, while in the attempt to be comprehensive in his historical review he does imperfect justice to the intricacy of the problem which he attacks.
The statement of the author's own position greets us with a refreshing breath of Harriet Martineau and the early nineteenth century. Mr. Hutt has no hesitation in going straight to the gist of the matter: the efficacy of trade-union action and of legislative interference. So sharp and clear a statement of the issue is stimulating to meet: there is none of that circumlocution and evasiveness which seems to have wrapped up the theory of wages in recent years. "Workers' combinations," says Mr. Hutt, "are impotent to secure a redistribution of the product of industry in favour of the relatively poor. Such a result cannot be achieved by interference with the value mechanism.'
In supporting this thesis Mr. Hutt seems much less successful than in his statement of it; and one feels that he has reached his satisfying conclusion by skipping too lightly over the main issues which cross his path. It is easy to postulate a number of several equilibria provided one assumes conditions enough; and Mr. Hutt, by selecting appropriate assumptions, is able to dogmatise about a number of things with an efficient air. At the same time, these assumptions are never made perfectly clear: whether he is hiding them from himself or only from us, I do not know. But it appears that Mr. Hutt adopts the device of assuming the supply of capital to be almost indefinitely elastic; not merely of capital in a particular use, but capital in general-or rather, he seems to draw no clear distinction between these two senses and to execute a skilful jugglery between them.
* "In the 1830s, several cities in the United States banned nine-pin bowling out of moral panic about work ethic, gambling, and organized crime" -- Wikipedia

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