[OPE-L:7554] RE: To Rakesh, RE: Fred's remarks on Marx, Sraffa & Rents

From: mongiovg (mongiovg@stjohns.edu)
Date: Tue Aug 27 2002 - 16:12:46 EDT

Rekaesh writes:

>But I don't understand what is ideological or metaphysical in
>maintaining descriptive focus through value or labor time analysis on
>the social relations between classes (see Frank Roosevelt, Amartya
>Sen, and others).
>As noted before, the so called surplus can be seen in non value terms
>simply as a physical quantity of use values, but that does not mean
>it's metaphysical or ideological also to understand the surplus in
>value terms as the materialization of alienated unpaid labor
>performed by one class for another (see Carchedi).
>Both the physical and value surplus are real entities; a value
>surplus is not a value in the normative sense, and so the implicit
>resort to a dubious positivism to dismiss the value dimension as
>ideological or metaphysical is out of place.
>Now one can say that surplus value is metaphysical because the
>quantity of alienated unpaid labor has no economic significance--that
>is, what matters economically is the size of the surplus in physical
>or use value terms, not the size of the surplus in value terms.
>What matters for economic analysis and the profit rate in particular
>is how big the surplus is in physical terms; whether it embodies a
>great or small quantity of unpaid labor time matters not a bit--you
>would seem to be implying.
>So in an almost fully automated economy--and this is as a crucial
>thought experiment for economics as Schroedinger's Cat is for Quantum
>Mechanics as Spencer Pack  noted in Reconstructing Marxian
>Economics--what would matter for the economy and the profit rate is
>how big the physical surplus is, not how little unpaid labor time the
>physical surplus of an almost fully automated economy must perforce

Rakesh, I'm not saying that Marx's labor categories aren't real.  Of course 
they are; they're just another way of expressing the technology and the 
portion of the social product that workers get--that is, they are a particular 
form of social accounting.  What I regard as metaphysical and ideological are: 
(i) the claim that profits and the profit rate cannot be adequately explained 
without reference to this particular accounting framework; (ii) the related 
claim that the exploitative character of capitalistic production relations 
cannot be grasped without reference to Marx's value analysis; and (iii) the 
insistence that this accounting system, despite the cumbersome difficulties it 
raises when we want to explain the profit rate that matters to capitalists 
(the profit rate in price terms), is somehow indispensible because it provides 
insights that are not otherwise derivable.

What insights are these, that cannot be derivable from Sraffa's model? That 
workers are exploited? Nope: I've got two eyes, and I read the papers 
(Walmart, anyone?); I know workers are exploited and I don't need Marx's labor 
value analysis to see that.  Sure, you can define exploitation as Marx did, 
from which it follows that you can't measure it without his value categories; 
but definitions are ultimately arbitrary, and there are other ways to define 
exploitation. Anyway, in the end, using such a value-loaded word as 
"exploitation" to describe a social process cannot help but be ideological. I 
don't doubt that there are contexts in which some interesting empirical 
regularities can be exposed by looking at economic processes through the lens 
of Marx's vlaue categories.  But I don't see that these categories are 
necessary to provide an understanding of the most fundamental processes--those 
relating to the determination of distribution, choice of technique, pace of 
accumulation, etc. For these sorts of issues, Sraffa's framework is superior, 
for all the reasons Steedman mentions.

All the best,


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