[OPE-L:3472] Re: Re: Gil's necessary conditions

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Fri Jun 09 2000 - 12:10:50 EDT

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Michael writes:

>A brief comment on what looks like a methdological chasm between Gil and at
>least some of his interlocutors

..in reaction to this passage from me:

>> As a result the existence of surplus value is logically
>> *possible* even given price-value equivalence. *But the significance of
>> capitalist production for capitalist exploitation does not in any way lie
>> in the existence of this mere logical *possibility*--capitalists don't
>> consciously or unconsciously take direct control of production conditions
>> in order to be able to reap surplus value even under price-value
>> equivalence.

He continues:

>This is to completely misunderstand the process of abstraction involved in
>what I have called Marx's 'even-if' logic. This requires neither that
>price-value equivalence exists nor that capitalists take it into account in
>their decision making. One can always immunize one's argument against
>criticism by hopping about between levels of abstraction.

I don't see either a methodological chasm or the legitimacy of the charge
of "abstraction level-hopping." Granting Michael's argument that
price-value equivalence is an "even-if" condition, this abstraction has
utterly no economic significance absent the arguments Marx gives to justify
it. Marx could also have "abstracted" to the case in which capitalists are
all the same height, or wear the same clothes, but neither these nor a host
of other "abstractions" have any demonstrable bearing on the existence of
surplus value, and are thus *useless* as analytical scenarios. Marx, of
course, recognizes this, which is why he spends Ch. 5 attempting to justify
(invalidly, as it turns out) his abstraction to price-value equivalence,
and not just asserting it.

Very well, my arguments are intended to show that Marx's two Ch. 5
justifications for the significance of his "even-if" abstraction don't
work. First, there is no useful or economically meaningful sense in which
price-value equivalence corresponds to the "pure case" of commodity
exchange or represents the "immanent laws of the exchange of commodities."
To the contrary, as the thought experiment I constructed helps to show, an
economy that gives rise to surplus value is in an important sense
*essentially* one in which at least some price-value disparities arise.
Second, showing that price-value disparities can't account for the
*creation* of new value (of course they can't--these disparities occur in
exchange, and exchange is not production, the basis for labor value) does
not validly establish that price-disparities are incidental to the
existence of surplus value, since the latter, by Marx's quite explicit
stipulation, also requires capitalist *appropriation* of some portion of
newly created value made possible by a circuit of capital.

The scenario of capitalist exploitation based universally on circuits of
industrial capital (involving capitalist production) allows these points to
be obscured solely by making possible a logical loophole that has nothing
integral to do with the role of capitalist production in capitalist
exploitation. {If I *really* wanted to be neoclassical about it, I would
pause here to note that even the logical loophole is only made possible by
ignoring the distinction between actual and imputed prices. The profit
rate is, among other things, an implicit price, and under the conditions
stipulated by Marx, this price corresponds to an economic rent.} But to
say that the coexistence of surplus value with price-value equivalence is a
logical possibility does not invest it with any particular economic
meaning, let alone establish it as the "pure case of commodity exchange."
So it should be clear than I'm not mixing up levels of abstraction. To the
contrary, I'm taking the justifications Marx gives for his particular
abstraction, and showing that they are inconsistent with the other claims
he makes for the system he's studying, *under the same level of
abstraction.* To prove otherwise, you'd have to establish that Marx didn't
understand his chapter 5 analysis to be relevant to an economic system in
which workers are expropriated and surplus value hasn't been eliminated by
overaccumulation--in other words, you'd have to show that Chapter 5 is
*necessarily* irrelevant to the remainder of Marx's analysis in Volume I of
Capital---which of course is my argument, albeit on different grounds.


>Dr Michael Williams
>Economics and Social Sciences
>De Montfort University
>Milton Keynes
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