Political Economy and the Problem of Conduct

  • Joel T. Shelton
Part of the International Political Economy Series book series (IPES)


Karl Marx insists that nineteenth-century political economy is too enamored of Adam Smith’s invisible hand — not only does the ‘free trader vulgaris’ (1981: 280) build on this turn-of-phrase a substantial ideological apparatus that conceals the real forces that shape political-economic life, he also hides from view the disharmonious character of these forces. For Marx, harmony in exchange is not the result of approbative sociality or the management of circumstance, but is an appearance — merely the ideological surface of an inherently disharmonious set of social relations that fuel the production of commodities and the accumulation of wealth. In Volume I of Capital (1867), Marx (1981: 280) argues that the views, concepts, and standards of political economy are derived from only its most visible dimension — ‘the sphere of circulation or commodity exchange’. From the surface of exchange, political economy appears harmonious — a realm of freedom in which buyers and sellers come together to exchange commodities (including labor-power) by their own free will, equal before the law, and looking only to their own advantage. Within the sphere of circulation, ‘either in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an omniscient providence, they all work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal, and in the common interest’ (1981: 280). To the harmonizer, the domain of political economy is ‘the exclusive realm of Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham’ (1981: 280).


Political Economy Normal Quality Subjective Dimension Factory Floor Subjective Requirement 
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Copyright information

© Joel T. Shelton 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel T. Shelton
    • 1
  1. 1.Lafayette CollegeUSA

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