My English 101 teacher once said that after political economy everything is easy. I believe those students taking quantum physics might disagree yet in terms of writing such a statement is undoubtedly true, for as anyone who has tried their hand at political economy knows, it is a tough nut to crack. Even “basic” texts can present a problem to those people who have not had a great deal of experience with the subject. So the reputation it holds among the English students of the world is much the same as Lord Voldemort has in the Harry Potter universe; i.e “thou shall not speak its name!”
As a dedicated Leftist, however, the genre of political economy is not anywhere as near as scary. In fact it becomes rather routine. This doesn’t mean that you can switch sides and all of a suddenly the hardest of texts become easy (for its doesn’t work like that), rather only that in becoming a knowledgeable comrade you will be required to dig into the hardest of texts.
I am no exception so it is natural to say I have “been around”. Most recently I started work on a study guide to Karl Marx’s magus opus Capital; his masterpiece which critiqued the capitalist mode of production. Even for me it was dense, even unbearable, the kind of material in truth which had it not been for professor David Harvey’s Youtube videos I would have been on the edge of giving up.
Why is this so, you might ask? Why is this subject so horribly convoluted that even seasoned progressive activists have been known to bash their heads against the wall in frustration? Well, for several reason: (1) it is twisted-no single piece dealing with political economy is particularly coherent; by this I mean there are several schools of thought each with their own contending angles, (2) the terms-if you haven’t guessed by now each school of thought possesses its own unique terms to mean various things. While this area has been somewhat reduced in recent decades, what with some fields taking on terms from Marxian realms, it is nonetheless still a major pain in the back. (3) of course no brief delving into the short-comings of political economy would be complete without mentioning that the first two points have to be understood within the context of the piece you are reading; meaning: is your text dealing with socialism, capitalism, fascism, communism, libertarianism, Anarchism? Whatever the specific field you then must ask in what topic is it dealing with-homelessness, employment, labor struggles? This facet of the text is vital to understanding political economy as a whole due to the single fact that if you do not know the core concept which you are trying to understand then you will never know the lingo or thought school.
So for those reasons, among others, political economy has its name as “one tough son of a…” biscuit. In short it is not for the light of heart. Though I enjoy the field to an extent, and indeed find it exhilarating once you surmount the hurdles, still occasionally find myself thinking “good god, what have I gotten myself into?” Yet I keep coming back. Why I keep slithering on back is simple: because despite all of its rigors the field of political economy holds the secrets to our salvation as a species; within the field there is the knowledge to start revolutions and innovations which can jump-start the necessary social-movements required to turn humanity off the beaten path and into something new, something sustainable.