August 16, 2020:
I'm taking Microeconomics at the University. The professor is an affected later-than-middle-age mediocrity with a Brahmin accent who spends much of her class time congratulating herself over her former pupils who've found jobs in the Neoliberal establishment. I imagine she deliberately patterns herself after Ayn Rand, with an Economics degree. In her way she embodies the shallow milquetoast third-tier absurdity of academics at the University of Redlands in that period.
Introducing myself, I tell her my major at Johnston is Philosophy of Science. She is immediately and rightly alarmed. She takes a step backward, leaning her entire body away from me, as though I'm glowing radioactive. Which in a certain way I am.
"Let's keep all that outside this classroom," she requests. Somewhat plaintively, in my perception. Surely she understands the intention I've just announced is to gleefully and repeatedly kick her ass. Where her objective in her courses is neither truth nor critical engagement, but, pure and simple, indoctrination. And where our relationship embodies and materializes the disconnect between the cultures of Johnston and its parent.
Here's our dialog:
Professor: Prices are determined by imbalances between supply and demand.
Mark (with hand up but not waiting to be called): What happens when there is no imbalance? Granted that's unlikely in practice, the theory has to account for it. By definition, then, prices are undetermined. What does that mean? Are they random? Zero? Infinitely high?
Professor (hemming uneasily, shifting from foot to foot): Well... They would have to be determined by costs of production. Raw materials, facilities, labor, transportation, advertising...
Mark: Exactly. But it can't be the direct costs, granted competition. It must be costs averaged over society as a whole, where a firm with lower costs of materials or transportation or labor or perhaps even a more clever marketing presence will have advantages in profitability over the others. This then would be at least part of the mechanism through which Capitalism drives innovation.
Professor (very hesitant, she knows there's a trap but she's neither intelligent nor knowledgeable enough to know from which direction it will spring): I guess so.
Mark: Congratulations, you're a Marxist. We've just more or less recapitulated a paragraph in Capital, Volume One where Marx quite sarcastically tears apart that untenable idea that prices are "determined" by supply and demand. And incidentally we've just articulated a kind of reasonable variant of Marx's critique of Ricardo's theory of value. Also parenthetically we've just proven that your textbook is false.
But there's no point to it. The professor is clueless, while the class is angry. They have no interest in Microeconomics, and none of this will be on the test. They're there to serve their time while fulfilling their graduation requirement. Arguments evoking Marx are not their world, while they correctly perceive me playing one-up intellectual games with the prof.
I drop the course. It's a waste of my time, too.