In Understanding Marx, a book by a another Marxian professor at Amherst, Robert Wolff, says that the economics faculty at Amherst are the finest of American radical and Marxian theorists…
“… the entire university is virtually unique in this country as a center of serious radical thought.”
One way to study Marx is to learn linear algebra and differential calculus, he notes. In Understanding Marx Robert Wolff offers a less formulaic and more of an annotated walkthrough of Das Kapital. Here is a good excerpt from his chapter on Marx’s theory of natural price, something JCD is discussing over on his blog.
“The truth, Marx asserted, is this: profit, ground rent, and interest, all originate as surplus value extracted from workers in the process of production. The total amount of surplus value generated in the economy as a whole in a single cycle of production is determined by the difference between the number of hours of labor performed by the wage laborers and the number of hours of socially necessary labor directly or indirectly required to reproduce the work force (to feed, clothe, and house them and their families) for another time period. Competition moves capital around in search of the highest rate of return on the total money value of invested capital, with the result that natural prices in general deviate from labor values.”
After that, a slew of managerial types – the bankers, landowners, retail merchants, and financiers, etc. – appropriate another chunk of the total surplus value generated by workers in the form of rent, profits, and interest. I think this is the point Richard Wolff is getting at in this video above when he talks about the American working class. More financial tools were created in this “bonanza” of capital accumulation and worker exploitation. These tools and tricks made it easier for Americans to take debt out on everything. But their wages, flat. So the overworked American takes on more debt to finance real wage stagnation, and then eventually a bubble came out of this. And we know, of course now, that the bubble is bursting.