Editor, author, musicianPosted: October 15, 2010
David Laibman is Professor of Economics (Emeritus) at Brooklyn College (where he taught from 1967 until 2010) and the Graduate School, City University of New York. He earned his Ph.D. in Economics in 1973 at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York, with a dissertation on a long-standing problem in Marxist economics, the formation and transformation of value in the general (abstract) capitalist economy. Since 1973 he has been associated with Science & Society, a quarterly Marxist journal now in its 75th year of publication, serving since 1990 as Editor of that journal. He is also a fingerstyle guitarist, known for his transcriptions and recordings of classical ragtime works, and for new compositions, in the ragtime genre, for guitar.
Professor Laibman taught economic theory, political economy, and mathematical economics, at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels at CUNY. He has taught or lectured in Mexico, Spain, Greece, Italy, Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, China, and Russia.
Laibman’s research covers many areas within Marxist economic and social theory, with input from and implications for social science discourse in general. His 1992 book, Value, Technical Change and Crisis, developed a position in the tradition of Marxist value theory that places abstract social labor at the heart of the process uniting production and exchange relations, in both simple and capitalist market societies, while at the same time offering a rigorous account of the quantitative determination and transformation of value, especially in the capitalist context of profit-rate equalization. Value, Technical Change and Crisis also presents Laibman’s model of capital accumulation with technical change ‒‒ an account of structural change and critical tendencies in capitalism that is both more nuanced and more determinate than the standard treatments of the famous (and controversial) “law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit.” Laibman’s theory of critical tendencies and crisis is further developed in his 1997 book, Capitalist Macrodynamics, where it is presented with a minimum of mathematical formalism.
From 1966 to 1986, Dr. Laibman was associated with the journal New World Review, whose long-time editor, Jessica Smith, was a major figure in the effort to counter cold-war hostility toward, and ignorance of, the Soviet Union, the socialist states of Eastern Europe, China, Southeast Asia, and Cuba. Laibman’s interest in the 20th-century post-capitalist experience deepened in that period, resulting in work on price formation, incentives, and systems of planning in socialist economies. He has developed, on the basis of that study, a conception of democratic, central‒decentral socialist coordination, presented in contributions to three special issues of Science & Society, in 1992, 2002, and 2012; in Value, Technical Change and Crisis; in Deep History: A Study in Social Evolution and Human Potential (SUNY Press, 2007); and in his most recent book, Political Economy After Economics: Scientific Method and Radical Imagination (Routledge, 2011).
Deep History is a treatise on historical materialism: the theory of the underlying directionality and necessities of human history, and how they are embodied in the rich varieties and contingencies of the actual historical experience. Early chapters of Deep History present a general conception of human individuality and society, with reference to the major positions in the literature on symbolic consciousness, “species being,” the role of labor, productive forces, class, and class conflict. A section on capitalism looks at the nature, logic (critical tendencies) and stadiality (stages of development) of capitalist society. Deep History concludes with a section on socialism and communism, bringing together Dr. Laibman’s ideas on the possible shape of social and economic realities transcending the capitalist era of concentrated private property ownership, alienation, polarization, instability and social disintegration.
Political Economy After Economics presents ten chapters, on topics ranging from the theory of value in the Marxist tradition to the capitalist shaping of technical change, the conditions for optimality of competitive equilibrium, the theory of aggregate supply in present-day macroeconomics, and the envisioning of socialist structures and institutions. The coordinating theme of the book is an affirmation: modern political economy must incorporate the expertise, quantitative techniques and abstract theoretical models that characterize present-day economics, rather than trying to deny the importance of these features and return to the older literary styles of the 19th century. Introductory sections within each chapter try to set the stage intuitively, giving the non-specialist reader a handle on the more technical material to follow.
Dr. Laibman’s work over the years has included critical engagement with various tendencies and schools of thought within Marxist theory. These include the well-known “Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism” debate that originated in Science & Society in 1950; the work of G. A. Cohen and Analytical Marxism; and several positions in value theory: the “New Interpretation” of Alain Lipietz, Gerard Dumenil and Duncan Foley; the debate on productive/unproductive labor; and the “Temporal Single System” position of Andrew Kliman, Ted McGlone, and Alan Freeman. Dr. Laibman’s summary statement on the various schools within value theory, in the tradition inaugurated by Marx, can be found in his article, “Value and the Quest for the Core of Capitalism,” Review of Radical Political Economics, 2002.
As noted above, when he is not trying to penetrate the mysteries of social structure, transformation and potential, Laibman pursues his interest in folk-style fingerpicking acoustic guitar, and especially its application to the ragtime era of the early 20th century, as best represented by Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, and James Scott. In recent years he has turned to composition of original pieces for guitar in the ragtime genre. With Eric Schoenberg, Laibman recorded The New Ragtime Guitar for Folkways in 1970. His solo album, Classical Ragtime Guitar, was released by Rounder in 1980. He is represented on numerous collections of ragtime guitar recordings, and most recently has made an instructional DVD and a performance‒interview DVD, available from the Stefan Grossman Guitar Workshop. Laibman’s most recent performance recording is a CD, Adventures in Ragtime: Nine Original Pieces in Classical Ragtime Style for Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitar (Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, 2008). A two-DVD instructional set, “Play the Classic Rags of Scott Joplin, James Scott & Joseph Lamb,” was released by SGGW in 2012.