[OPE-L:5518] Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Tue May 08 2001 - 09:19:19 EDT

Re Paul C's [5510]:

Previously I asked (among other questions):

> 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 theory?
> 1) to what extent can an appeal to empirical
> evidence 'settle' the question of the superiority
> of alternative paradigms?

Paul C responded (to the last question):

> There  is an extensive literature on the
> relationship  between Occams  razor and choice
> between theorems.
> This goes under the heading of the Minimum
> Description Length principle, (snip, JL)

As always, thanks for your response -- it
seems to have set a few hares in motion.

You didn't really answer, though, the first group
of questions that I asked (see above). These
questions are related to another one that I asked
in [5500]: "How simple is *too* simple?".

Occam's razor (also called Ockam's razor) and
the MDL principle suggest that the simplest
theory that is capable of explaining a phenomenon
is the best. Yet, if the phenomenon under
investigation is inherently complex then one can
*over-simplify* the subject to such an extent that
essential aspects of that subject are not included
within the explanation. It seems to me that there
are many instances of the latter in the history
of political economy. I think that this was a
major part of Marx's critique of authors such as
Torrens,  McCulloch, and James Mill.  I.e.
part of Marx's critique of the 'vulgar economists'
associated with the 'disintegration of the Ricardian
school' (see _TSV_,  Part 3, Ch. XX) was
that these economists represented a step
backwards from Ricardo to the extent that their
theories were *too* simple.

But, figuring out what is "too simple" is by no
means an easy task (although I don't think
that it requires that we throw up our hands and
"choose not to choose" a la Feyerabend. See
Nicky's [5513]).

Consider again the first question I asked above
(I'll expand on it here).  VFT (e.g. our own R/W)
have suggested that a systematic dialectical
reconstruction in thought of capitalism should
identify money with value and should not consider
either labour-power or money to be commodities.
They (especially Mike W) has offered many
reasons for this shift. One of the reasons offered,
it appears to me, is that these concepts in
Marx are not only outdated and erroneous but
are *also* unnecessary and redundant.  That last
argument seems to me to be an appeal to Occam's
razor and the MDL principle.  Yet, if we are
going to appeal to the MDL principle, wouldn't
Sraffa and surplus approach theory be a 'winner'
in relation to *both* Marx and VFT?  Indeed,
didn't Steedman's critique of Marx in its claim
that value theory is 'redundant' and 'unnecessary'
implicitly appeal to Occam's razor and the MDL
principle?   So if both theories implicitly appeal
to the MDL principle, how do we then choose
between VFT and surplus approach theory?
I think that the answer has to concern trying
to draw a line a proverbial line in the sand where
on one side of the line there are unnecessary
assumptions and on the other side there is over-
simplification to such an extent that essential
aspects of the subject under investigation are
abstracted from. To address this question more
concretely would thus, for example, require that
we consider to what extent money and value are
essential to comprehending the subject matter of
capitalism. This, though, can not be resolved
through an appeal to Occam's razor and the
MDL principle -- or so I am inclined to believe.

In solidarity, Jerry

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