[OPE-L:5585] Re: explanatory power

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed May 16 2001 - 02:22:24 EDT

>Re: Fred Moseley [5569], Jerry Levy [5582] and Geert Reuten [5583]:

>>Fred argues [[5569]] that his perspective is preferable to
>>VFT  "because it has greater explanatory power."
>>How are we to judge, though, which theory has
>>greater explanatory power?

Fred set's out this argument more fully in a 1997 piece (on his website).
In my view, the sort of axiomatic logic that Moseley advocates there misses
the role of the price system in allocating labour to different
technical-material labour processes, as it misses the co-constitution of
value and price that makes the form-determined (capitalist) economy what it
*essentially* is.  Further, his claim to greater explanatory power for LET
seems to be based on a misunderstanding of the methodology underlying the
value-form argument.  As is usual in these debates, methodological and
substantive issues interact.

The crux of Moseley's argument (circa 1997) is that an 'adequate' theory of
the magnitude of value added must meet certain logical requirements for
independent determination of variables within an equation.  The assumption
is that theories (eg R&W's VFT) that do not meet the axiomatic requirements
of analytical determination are incapable of determining the magnitude of
surplus value.  He then follows up this criticism by saying that Marx's LET
is a 'plausible hypothesis, the validity of which should be evaluated on
the basis of the extent to which it can explain the important phenomena of
capitalism' (p.1).  The reduction coefficients (required by Fred's own
theory, and criticised by Reuten and Williams) can he says be assumed -
'taken as given' - since a 'scientific theory may involve the postualtion
of unobservable entities' (p.3).

Implicit but unaknowledged in all of this is the philosophical assumption
that there is only one kind of scientific theory, only one valid form of
(analytic) logic, and only one possible interpretation of Marx's value
theory.  The core assumption seems to be that Marxism can develop as a
social science only when its central concepts are expressed as theorems and
elucidated in formalist models designed to prove derived postulates via
testable ('plausible') hypotheses.  A corollary to this is the assumption
that the methods thrown up by analytic philosophy are generally agreed
upon, so constituting an appropriate critique of the alternative paradigm -
in this case VFT.  Certainly, Fred doesn't seem to give any credence to the
possibility that alternative logical forms may constitute a scientific
basis for inquiry.  This is quite extraordinary, given that the whole
project of value-form theory is, in essence, a refutation of the analytic
process of abstraction!!  What is at stake in VFT is precisely the status
of abstractions in Marx's and Marxian value theory, and the different
*meanings* of value that result from these conceptual alternatives.

In taking the stand he does, Fred passes up the opportunity to develop any
understanding of VFT.  For VFT, any attempt to establish a relationship
between independent and dependent variables is misplaced since what is
fundamental about capitalism is that the variables of interest to Fred are
inextricably interconnected - it is their unity that makes capitalism what
it essentially is.  i.e. in capitalism value and price are mutually
constituted by exchange, the only process whereby the private,
concrete-labour of individuals becomes validated as social, abstract
labour.  Hence there is no sense in which abstract-labour and value are
independent of their monetary expression. On the contrary, abstract-labour
is labour-time measured in money, where the money productivity of labour is
the dominant operator.

>From this perspective, an axiomatic logic is wholly inappropriate and lacks
explanatory power as a theory of social value.  Given the unity of value
and price, Moseley's (1997) question must be rephrased: can any theory
predict prices on the basis of labour-time?  By itself labour - as measured
in time - is not homogenous (i.e. a reductive abstraction) and can be made
so only by assuming away a real problem, by definition (as Marx, in fact,
did).  Moreover, labour-time is not constant since labour-productivity
changes over time.  Since there is no adequate measure of physical
productivity of labour, there is also no adequate measure of socially
necessary labour time.  How then does LET theory explain prices and profits
as Moseley demands?  Only by assuming them away - taking them as 'given'.
Well, what does that takes labour-values as 'given' explain?  In my view,
what Fred demands cannot be done, since labour is not the "causal" element;
rather causality must be attributed to the systemic essence of capitalism:
i.e. to the valorisation process which establishes value as a pure
quantitative (monetary) relationship between abstract labour and prices. 

The VFT alternative is to argue that essence is not labour-value, but the
systemic form determination that gives the value dimension its monetary
form.  Concrete labour also does not have a value-form, but is brought
under the dimension of value, and form determined as abstract-labour.  The
empirical work that accompanies this explanation of what capitalism is
*essentially* is not therefore concerned with the verification of
hypotheses about labour-values and/or their conservation in prices (what
anyway are labour-values apart from their expression in prices?).  Rather
the concern is with an inquiry into *how* the value dimension interacts
with core (non-contingent) elements as well as non-essential (contingent)
elements of the system.  Given the research agendas of prominent writers
within the VFT tradition (eg Geert's current inquiry into business cycles)
it might be legitimately argued then that VFT expands the scope for
theoretical and empirical research beyond the current fixation on
determination of profits by so-called labour values.  Moreover, it
challenges the Ricardian assumption (openly stated in Moseley's's 1997
website paper) that this is Marx's 'main' objective.   

One more point can be made in VFT's favour.  Ultimately, the methodological
imperative guiding a systematic presentation remains the determination of
the object-totality.  In the case of capitalism, however, the comprehension
is never complete since value cannot reproduce itself as a self-sustaining
totality.  Fully determined, the value-form grasps neither labour-power
(which takes on the value form, but isn't produced within capitalist
relations of production, and so is *not* a commodity) nor money (as the
sole autonomous existence of the value-form - see Mike's 1992, 1998 in
CJE).  Thus, VFT *verifys* Marx's crucial insight that capitalism cannot
fully determine its conditions of existence.  Moseley's objection to VFT -
as he sets it out in his 1997 piece - fails to get to grips with any of
this, since it fundamentally misses (or misrepresents) the crucial argument
- the systemic causation - that  determines VFT results.  Now, what is the
point of attacking a straw man?  

I think Fred's assertions provide an illuminating demonstration of a key
point in this debate.  That is, without agreed criteria for evaluating
arguments, and without arguments to justify these criteria, there is no way
to resolve points of controversy - either in discussions of Marx's theory,
or in discussion of VFT reconstructions of it.  Like value and price,
method and substance are inextricably interconnected.  

comradely, Nicky

Nicola Mostyn (Taylor)
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
Telephone: 61-8-9385 1130

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