[OPE-L:5657] Re: Re: Marx's theory as a quantitative theory

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@waitrose.com)
Date: Tue May 22 2001 - 19:25:57 EDT

Hi Fred,
For the sake of argument I accpet all of Marx's numbers including those in
ch. 7. But this means nothing. The key questions are : to what do these
numbers refer? (e.g. is it possible to commensurate labour times?), and
even more importantly, in virtue of what theoretical principle is the
quantitative relation asserted? (e.g. why on earth are we trying to
comensurate labur times anyway?). Unless these questions are dealt with the
explanatory power of number crunching is zilch. nicky has given the
folowing key point from Marx on what is needed to make sense of the numbers
(NB Jerry, even if Rubin never wrote we have this):
>"Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however
>incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms.
>But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that
>particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why
>the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of
>the value of the product"
IMO a) most of Marx's followers forgot this when playing the numbers game;
b) Marx himself could not push throught this insight to the end and often
falls back on Ricardian talk.
Why is VFT necessary to make sense of the numbers? People have spoken of
systematic causation, formal causality, I prefer form-determinaton. Someone
spelt out formal causality as to do with the explanation of tendencies
(e.g. the move to real subsumption) and to the patterns which structure
events. I focus now on thelatter. To begin with I use an analogy which has
defects but will get us to first base.
Let us say we try to explain weight and notice twice as much of X weighs
twice as much. Ah! Weight is inherent  to things! Wrong. What is inherent
is mass. But mass has no inherent tendency to turn into weight. A free
floating mass has no weight. The form of gravity imposes weight on it when
the mass is placed in a gravitational field. Notice it is the field itself
that establishes the relevant quantitative determination. Gravity does not
give more weight to things with more sides, it gives more weight to things
with more mass. Once the field is in place it appears ilusorily that weight
is inherent.
By analogy it is the value form  of the exchange field that imposes value
on commodities (labour in no way "causes" this to happen), picks out labour
(as the equivalent to mass ; hence Andy it is less than half a truth to say
labour time causes value.), and that commensurates labours by duration
rather than by energy expended, or unpleasantness,or social status of
occupations, or whatever.
Why does the value form make these last two moves? The answer to the first
I have given in C&C. The answer to the second I am astonished to find has
never  been given anywhere - certainly not by Marx. IMO only VFT can answer
it and I will one day write a paper which will do this starting from the
fact that capital's measure of itself is as a rate of accumulation:
expressed in aphorisms we can see the peasant saying "Time costs nothing"
replaced by the bourgois principle "Time is Money". It is because capital
cares about time that labours are commensurated by time, and not  v.v.
Once the form-determinations are in place the illusion arises that labour
time is value.
1. Above I played fast and loose with form and force. Gravity is not an
empty form but a field of force. VFT has to theorise (using systemativc
dialectic) th e ontological shift from the empty form of exchange to the
field of force of capitalist competition.
2. With gravity the connection of form and content seems too close. Someone
could say (wrongly as it happens) that it is an inherent property of masses
to attract one another.
But products do not have any inherent tendency to exchange and certainly
not to equate their times of production with each other. Nor does exchange
per se result in this; it only does when we have capitalist copmpetition
i.e. form-determination.
The difficult thing here is that we have the intersection of  ontoloigcal
differents - th e ideal value forms and the shapes of material production.
The form and content are alien yet combine and even interact. Neither can
reduce the other to an epiphenomenon of itself.
But I argue that the forms set th e pattern of what will be recognised as
value and th e principles of quantitative variation, while innovations in
production determine the relative changes in the variables so specified by
the forms. Moreover it is VFT that explains the tendency to such
innovation, rather than some mystical inherent tendency to technical
advance as in Cohen.
PS Ajit and others - apologies I am still well behind in this discussion.

17 Bristol Road, Brighton, BN2 1AP, England

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