[OPE-L:5500] William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Sat May 05 2001 - 09:08:45 EDT

Inspired by Nicky's [5487] -- excerpts of which
are clipped at the end of this post:

I agree that value-form theory (VFT) offers a
simpler and 'cleaner'  theory than that offered by
Marx.  Certainly, if one holds that price is value
and  money and labor power are not commodities,
then that is a simpler and 'cleaner' theory that
avoids a whole host of 'problems' that have been
raised regarding Marx's theory.

Does Ockham's Razor then not suggest that we
should embrace VFT in preference to Marx's
theory? By the same token, does Ockham's Razor
suggest that we should embrace surplus approach
theory in preference to either VFT or Marx's

It should be remembered, though, that capitalism
is an inherently complex system and the simplest
possible explanation is not necessarily the best
explanation for the systematic reconstruction of
that mode of production in thought. Since I
doubt whether anyone who is an adherent of the
above theoretical positions would disagree with
the previous sentence, that raises other questions:

1) to what extent can an appeal to empirical
evidence 'settle' the question of the superiority
of alternative paradigms?   In practice, this
becomes a very difficult way of accessing
alternative theories. E.g. if we had a clear
opposition between one theory for which
money and labour-power must be commodities
and another theory in which they are not,
then empirical and historical evidence (in
addition to Ockham's razor) might suggest
which theory is preferable. There is not such
a 'clean' opposition, though, that can be tested
since the theory that held that labour-power
is a commodity also holds that it is a *unique*
commodity and that there may no longer be
a money commodity (pace Claus and Akira).
Even on the question of whether gold still is the
money commodity, we have seen ambiguous
empirical evidence.

2) one could suggest that the theory which
reconstructs (e.g. through the method of
systematic dialectics) in thought the 'essential'
inter-relationships that characterize the capitalist
mode of production in the 'simplest' and
'clearest' way is the superior theory (this also
assumes Ockham's razor).  Yet, this is a *very*
difficult thing to determine in practice for an
inherently complex system in which things are
by no means necessarily as they seem at the
surface level of appearances. Thus, that gets
us back to the question: how simple is *too*

Thus, how *do* we have a 'cross-paradigm'
discussion about the merits of alternative theories
of capitalism without retrograding into a
discussion of Marx's perspective?

At the IWGVT, Gary asked (following in the
tradition of Steedman) what (and here I am
paraphrasing) one theoretical perspective
(the TSSI) was able to tell us that surplus
approach theory couldn't. In so doing, I
think he (and Steedman before him) were raising
the issue of Ockham's razor as a way of choosing
between alternative theories of political economy.
I don't agree that this is necessarily the best
question to be asking (see above), but I think
it is reasonable to ask how in the lack of clear
empirical evidence that supports one theory and
negates another (very rare in political economy)
or lacking a clear logical inconsistency or
fallacy by one theory (as is often claimed --
but infrequently proved) how one *does*
(without resorting to authority, i.e. without
resorting to the assumption that in the lack
of clear evidence to the contrary Marx was
'right',  or political claims, i.e. claiming that
one theory is preferable to another because of
supposed political advantages of one
perspective [which runs the danger of introducing
a 'bias' into what purports to be an analysis of
the law(s) of motion of capitalism])  compare
and critically evaluate alternative perspectives
of the political economy of capitalism?

Any thoughts? Anyone?

In  solidarity, Jerry

----- Original Message -----
From: "nicola taylor"
Subject: [OPE-L:5487] Re: Re: Counteracting factors (snip, JL)

> Is the conceptual problem with Jerry's reformulation, or is it with a
> labour embodied value theory?  Suppose that money is not a commodity but
> pure form (having no labour-value substance); i.e. money is a more
> determination of value, and price as it's complete and finished
>  Then price *is* value, at a different level of determination.  Now
> that labour-power is not a commodity (since it is produced *outside* of
> capitalist relations of production, in the household); then it makes no
> sense to think about the wage as a 'value' or a monetary equivalent to the
> subsistence bundle of reproducing labour-power as a commodity.  Rather the
> wage is determined by supply and demand, by workers struggles, and by
> intervention.  Now, if labour-power and money are not commodities in the
> sense described by Marx (Marx's own condition being that commodities are
> produced within capitalist relations of production), then the triple
> represent a fall in the purchasing power of the wage (yes, in the
> neoclassical sense), therefore, a redistribution from the working consumer
> to the capitalist class.
> A theory that affords ontological primacy to what goes on in production
> does not, imo, provide an adequate understanding of oligopolistic
> or the changes in contemporary capitalism (if Jerry is saying something
> similar, then I agree with him).  In my own view, the reason for this is
> that money is not given any ontological significance in the orthodox
> abstract-labour theory of value, but is opposed to value as merely
> phenomenal form.  So the redistribution from worker to capitalist can only
> be theorised as a redistribution of use-values.  This is wrong.  The
> capitalist economy is clearly 'form-determined' - at very least in the
> sense that capitalists make an 'ideal precommensuration' in *money terms*,
> before purchasing labour-power for *money wages*, and allocating it to
> particular industries.  What is needed to understand the complex
> interrelation of production and consumption in the reproduction of the
> system, then, is a systematic dialectical reconstruction of Marx's core
> categories, answering to the question of *how* value and abstract labour
> are determined not as substance, but as historically specific capitalist
> *forms*.

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