[OPE-L:5577] Ockam's Razor

From: Geert REUTEN (reuten@fee.uva.nl)
Date: Mon May 14 2001 - 17:23:55 EDT

This is a reply to Fred Moseley's [5569] and Andrew Brown's [5571].

There is of course a reason why people sometimes have to write articles and
books: complexity of the object makes it impossible to *adequately* set out
the argument in letter length. At some point "letter length' does not take
you further -- just to repitition of the bare elements.

There are two *main* lines of argument in Marx's value theory in Capital,
one a Labour-embodied line, the other a VFT line. I have never argued there
is only one (there are several reason for this -- amplified upon in an
article in the forthcomig issue of Historical Materialism). Therefore,
there is also room for two lines if reconstruction. I observe that Fred
consistently speaks of "Marx's labour theory of value* and *value-form
theory*. Fred, if you really want to have a discussion on this matter, you
should at least allow for the possibility that the other might -- also --
be a line. (To give an analogous example: if you go into a discussion about
wether "abortion" is justifiable, but at forehand say "abortion is murder"
no discussion is possible anymore -- you seem to have made up your mind,
and perhaps just want to defend your own position.)
Below I will call the first position ("Marx's labour theory of value") LET
(labour-embodied theory), the other VFT (i.e. value-form theory, equally
Marx's theory IMO). (LET or ALET, abstract-labour-embodied theory -- I take
that into account.)

I dont think that Marx in "Capital" presents a price theory (say "micro",
as in micro-economics). Even not in the LET-interpretation. Although it
might perhaps be developed from it. For VFT (at least my version of it)
there is no transformation *problem*, at say, the level of abstraction of
V-3. The big transformation ("the transsubstantiation") happens at the
level of abstraction akin to early in V-1. (Marx's problem was that he had
to set out his theory in terms of the language of his day, i.e. the
Ricardian problematic).
However, when LET and VFT arrive, so to speak, at the beginning of V-3,
Part Three (i.e. after "the" transformation), they have equal weapons in
this respect. (I am NOT saying that LET makes a detour, the two tours are
Even within, broadly, a LET problematic, it is not obvious -- as Fred seems
to suggest -- that surplus-value is a predetermined *given* from a V-1
analysis. Fred and I have discussed this before -- outside OPEL -- and some
of the same arguments were recently made by Rakesh. The *given* view
polishes away all the interesting dynamics of V-2 and V-3 (and even those
are still at a quite high level of abstraction) -- thus (in Fred's view
apparently) we seem to make no progress. All there is to say to it has been
said in V-1. (The other Fred, BTW, Engels was of the same opinion -- this
is to say it is a respectable position, I happen not to agree.)
I think this is the main point and before this issue has been cleared there
is, it seems to me, not much use to go into details about other matters.

As to Andrew's post:
>The last I remember was Fred reproducing an equation for 
>aggregate value added put forward by Geert and Michael:
>Y: aggregate value added
>m: monetary expression of labour
>L: abstract labour time

I should like to correct this: in our view mL is abstract labour.
Both sides of the equation are `on a par', further, the equation is an
informed tautology (for conceptual clarification) WITHIN the framework. (It
is of course not a tautology for other frameworks.) This is of course not
to say that the concepts of one of the sides can be dispensed with -- it is
not that kind of tautology.

For me at least, labour is the source of surplus-value (would you call that
a `quantitative theory'? -- I doubt the term usefull for that, but I would
think that LET has no more here than VFT). The odd thing is that LET takes
it that if labour is the source, it should also be the measure -- this is
what in normal measuring practice one should not do. (I argued this in
detail in *Rivista di Politica Economica* 1999 -- I can forward it to those
we cannot get hold of it easily.)

>At the same time I accept that value form theory can be (and in 
>fact is) very useful despite the apparant fact that it does not have a 
>quantitative theory of surplus value.
>Can we all agree on this?
>Can we also agree that a theory which *both* reconstructs the 
>qualitative characteristics *and* theorises the quantitative 
>determination of surplus value (and other economic magnitudes) is 
>desirable (if such a theory is possible)? For, the magnitudes of 
>profits, wages, interest and rent are *extremely* important in our 
>society. Imo, the lack any general theory of these magnitudes 
>*severely* limits the scope of any social theory, therefore. 

Yes, I agree about this last paragraph. Crucial -- to me -- for the
discussion between LET and VFT is: (1) the reconstruction of the
qualitative (for the time being VFT takes me further on this score; (2) I
doubt it that LET has at the concrete level of the empirical more to say
than VFT.

>At least on my grasp of it, the work of Fine and 'followers' of Fine 
>also develops such a two-fold grasp of the CMP (though it does it 
>in a different way to Fred).

About Ben Fine: both Michael Williams and I have been students of him (that
is how we met). He and Laurence Harris have had a great impact on me (you
can also see that in the references in *Value-Form and the State*).


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