[OPE-L:7731] Re: Re: Postscript: M,C, V and S are abstractions, too

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Date: Mon Sep 30 2002 - 17:16:57 EDT

Hi, Fred.

>You will soon need a tape recorder to record your thoughts on your drives

Yeah, I've tried to condense the process by anticipating what it is I'm 
going to think about during the commute, but there's something unreplicable 
about the state of mind that comes with driving some distance, esp. in the 
absence of traffic.

Anyway, where I wrote

> > The *aggregate" concepts denoted by M, C, and V, on the other hand, are
> > "purely...mental abstractions" that therefore "have been invented out 
> of our
> > heads"--you can't see them or touch them, and they don't immediately 
> bear on
> > the details of any commodity transaction,

you argue

>Gil, I argue that M, C, and V (and I would add most importantly S) are
>defined in terms of quantities of money-capital in circulation in the real
>capitalist economy as a whole, and therefore are in principle
>observable.  In a very rough way, these monetary variables refer to the
>quantities of money-capital on the accounting books of capitalist
>enterprises (a point which Duncan Foley has emphasized in his work).
>In a theoretically more rigorous way, these moneatary variables can be
>estimated by judicial use of the monetary quantities in the US NIPAs
>(as I and Shaikh and others have attempted to do).

Just so.  They're "observable," but not as anything other than somebody's 
calculations based on an abstraction derived from concrete quantities 
exchanged and the prices at which they exchange.  The "quantities of 
money-capital on the accounting books of capitalist enterprises" are 
calculated by aggregating commodities values at their respective prices, 
and enterprises couldn't arrive at these quantities *without* aggregating 
from individual commodities and prices.  Similarly, the US national income 
account figures are also derived by this process of aggregation from 
individual commodity magnitudes and prices.  So again, if we were to obey 
Ilyenkov's methodological dictate with respect to the study of capital, it 
seems that we must necessarily begin from individual commodities and their 
respective prices, not the non-directly observable magnitudes that must in 
any case be *derived* from these concrete features of any capitalist economy.

>It seems to me that you, like so many others, are defining these variables
>in terms of labor-values (even M?).  I would agree that quantities of
>socially-necessary labor-time are not in principle observable.  But M, C,
>V, and S refer to quantities of money-capital, which are observable.

Again, I have no qualms with defining M, C, V, and S as monetary 
magnitudes, noting only that they must be shown to be consistent with 
Marx's additional assumptions of exchange at value, given his definition of 

As for observability, I think I disagree with you.  M, C, V and S are not 
observable in the same sense that commodity exchanges at given prices are 
observable.  One can *calculate* these monetary aggregates given data on 
individual commodity exchanges, but one can't *see* the aggregates directly 
in the economy in the same way as you can see, say, a forest as well as the 
individual trees  (nobody had to "aggregate" the trees to create "the 
forest" as an accounting figure, e.g.), or a battalion of soldiers in 
addition to the individual soldiers.

In the same way, one can *calculate* labor values from observable 
production conditions, even though one can't directly see them.

> > but if you think you have a good
> > theoretical reason for doing so, you could perform the purely mental
> > operation of calculating these aggregates by constructing them from their
> > concrete foundations in capitalist reality--that is, from sums of money
> > given by purchases of commodities at their respective prices. Indeed, if
> > we are to uphold Ilyenkov's methodological precepts, we must *necessarily*
> > proceed in this way.  So rather than merely positing C and V as pure
> > abstractions, it would seem more in keeping with materialist dialectics
> > to construct them explicitly from prices and quantities--since this must be
> > done in practice in any case if one is to actually calculate these 
> magnitudes
> > for a real capitalist economy.
>By "calculate" and "construct" here, do you mean estimate or theoretically

In the context of theoretical determination, "construct."  In the present 
instance, *whether or not* Marx proceeds as though he independently posits 
C and V, the fact is that they are *in any case* determined by the vector 
product of, respectively, means of production and labor inputs and their 
respective prices, and their invocation must be shown to be consistent with 
this connection if the theory is to be internally coherent.  Marx adds the 
additional stipulation that this connection between C and V and the 
respective sums must be consistent with the hypothesis of exchange at value.

In practice, i.e. empirically, C and V must in any case be calculated as 
the sums of products of given commodities and their respective prices, and 
can't be determined without carrying out this calculation--that is, these 
aggregates don't simply exist, and thus can't be observed, of themselves.



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