[OPE-L:5527] Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: Geert REUTEN (reuten@fee.uva.nl)
Date: Wed May 09 2001 - 22:33:21 EDT

The number of issues going on under this thread is rather immense. I will
restrict to three issues: (1) simplicity of VFT;  (2) ontological status of
form; and (3) briefly, prediction.

I am very glad that at least some contributors to this thread think of
Value-form theory as simple. Any theoretician would hope that a theory is
received that way, and in my contributions to theory that is at least
something that I aim for. As a contributor to VFT, however, I have some
problem here, since I still see it as rather complex -- for the time being
unavoidably so as, for the time being, its object-reality is still complex
to me. The difficulty is to grasp appropriately the inherent duality of the
capitalist system, that is its physical-material make-up and its
monetary-form make-up. (The complexity goes beyond value theory, that is
merely the elementary part.) Surely (imo) these are not two parallel issues
-- as `classical' essence--appearance and content--form views might see it
-- but interconnected ones. Of course this is related to the central point
of critique of VFT of any monistic theory, reducing the lot to merely one
of its poles (be it 'physicalist' (abstract-)labour-embodied theories and
Neoclassical utility theories -- only in this respect of course they are in
the same camp; or, the other pole, some Keynesian and business economics
strands). The point is that the social form (in the case of capitalism the
VF) affects the "content" -- we cannot, without loosing sight of what is
going on, think of the content in abstraction from the form. A way of
capturing this is Marx's theory of `real' -- as opposed to `formal' --
subsumption, of the Results (on which Patrick Murray has written in the
past and will also publish in the forthcoming issue of *Historical
Of course, to the extent that -- at least some -- labour-embodied theories
see LE-*value* as `content', they must run into trouble here, since value
for them is also `form'. Thus the concepts collapse (are reduced to each
other). Surely, here lies a *paradigmatic* problem of understanding each

With the first point I have prepared my comment of the second. Form -- the
VF in our case -- *does* have ontological status because of its ontological
affect on things and processes. This is of course the duality of
commodities (and BTW also the reason why transformations to other MoP is
complex). Of course labour is necessary to the CPM. However,  the
naturalistic "reduction" to "labour content", say hours -- even complex
hours --, is seems to me, is to abstract from [cf Jerry 5518] the essential
form determination of the CMP. Again, form determination is not an
ephitomon, it has ontological reality.
If this ontological status of the VF is not taken into account then our
(Michael Williams and me) coining of money as `pure form' risk being
misunderstood. (I guess Michael agrees, but I speak for myself here). The
`pure' refers to the point that the shape (gold, cattle, accounting entries
etc) does not essentially matter, thus is contingent (however -- Michael
made this point already -- the one shape may, in some stage I would add, be
more efficient than another). Of course this  contingency reveils one
aspect of the weirdness of the VF.

One final, other, point [re Jerry's intial; re Paul C's 5516; and Jerry's
5526], I dont think that VF-theorists have any `objection in principle' to
prediction, at least I have not. I wished I could predict prices. However,
here lies no priority in my research since I doubt that any theory can
predict prices. But of course even if a "theory" (I suppose rather some
algorithm or model) could predict well (for a time being) -- like Jerry I
dont know of such a model -- that may not make it sufficiently explanatory.
Within a phase of the business cycle naive models [in brief: y(t+1) =
a(y(t-x))] usually provide good predictors, but that does not make them
explanatory in a non-superficial sense. (And if, generally, you take out
the cyclical component of the data, you may have a host of not too bad
hindsight `predictors'.) [cf the huge literature around Friedmanian


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