(OPE-L) Re: how simple is too simple?

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Thu Sep 02 2004 - 11:17:11 EDT

Hi Ian W.  You sent the following message just as I was leaving
for the boat so the following constitutes an over-due reply to
part of that post.

> -------- Original Message --------
> From: Ian Wright <iwright@GMAIL.COM>
> Date: Sat, June 12, 2004 12:19 pm
> Jerry,
> > Ellipses and circles can be rigorously and consistently
> > defined and comprehended.  "Production" without (produced)
> > means of production posits a situation like Ajit suggested --
> > silver pickers on a beach (where the silver can be picked up by
> > hand without requiring any implements).  Even without a
> > division of labour -- even Robinson Crusoe! --  required means
> > of production.  After all, even Robinson Crusoe was a 'tool-making
> > animal'.
> This makes no sense Jerry -- on what grounds can you maintain that a
> "circles can be rigorously and consistently defined and comprehended"
> and yet a simple production structure with labour as the only input
> cannot? There mere fact we can both comprehend silver (and k-1 other
> things) pickers on a beach makes it comprehensible. It could also
> refer to an economic experiment in the laboratory. It could also refer
> to a simple artificial market on the internet, say distributed
> processors bidding for jobs. It could also refer to k consumer
> commodities, abstracting from the indirect production processes. You are
> indulging in wordplay here.

No, I wasn't engaged in wordplay.  I was asking a serious question --
which I don't think you've replied to -- if one is presenting a model
or illustration that purports to say something meaningful about the
capitalist mode of production "how simple is too simple"?

(Note To Phil D:  Yes, Marx did on occasion assume in simple
numerical illustrations -- in Volume III of _Capital_ -- that c = -0-.
But, that doesn't answer the question I was asking, does it?  Can
you explain "how simple is too simple"  re a theory that purports to
comprehend capitalism _without_ reference to Marx? Can we
assume a classless society? Can we assume that c, v, and s _all_ equal
-0-?  NB: I am obviously not claiming that Ian did this.  I am simply
trying to have you and others explain "how simple is too simple"  for
grasping the subject matter of capitalism and _why_.)

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by an "economic experiment
in the laboratory".  The subject of political economy is social and those
social agents can not be examined in laboratory-like conditions, e.g.
economic agents can not be put in a vacuum.  Because of that (in part),
assumptions are required for theory-building. We have no disagreement
there. But, the question remains whether _particular_ assumptions _over_
simplify the subject matter (as for example is the case with Walrasian
theory) and therefore inhibit and obscure understanding rather than
advance it. I am not making an accusation here, I am asking a serious

The issue shouldn't be whether we can comprehend silver pickers on a
beach.  Of course we can. The issue was whether that assumption/scenario
helps us to comprehend _capitalism_.  To move from an individual situation
where an economic agent can be able to obtain a useful object without
means of production -- as was the case with the hypothetical silver pickers
on a beach -- to the macro level where we are seeking to represent in
thought a viable self-reproducing mode of production runs the danger of
committing the fallacy of composition.  I.e. even if an isolated individual
situation can be posited  we can not legitimately infer that what is true
that individual situation is also true in the aggregate.

In solidarity, Jerry

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