Re: [OPE-L] Theoretical issues concerning variable capital

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu Oct 05 2006 - 18:53:35 EDT

>I haven't got POCBMOC handy here to check chapter and verse, but I think
>Fred put it quite well:
>"The real wage in Sraffian theory is a specific bundle of goods, determined
>ex-ante (prior to prices and money wages), and determined independently of
>workers' consumption choices.  Moreover, it is assumed that each worker
>consumes the same bundle of goods.  By contrast, the real wage in my [and
>presumably Marx's] interpretation is not taken as given as a specific bundle
>of goods, but is rather derived ex-post from the given money wage and prices
>and workers consumption choices. And the real wage is generally different
>for different workers."
>I am not sure what you mean with "In other words, the nature of wage labour
>can only be grasped from the perspective of reproduction, of production in
>its continuous and uninterrupted flow."

Why does Marx characterize the wage relation as de facto slavery? To
see this one
must see that variable capital is not advanced as it appears to be.
But to see the real relation one must understood capital as a process
of reproduction. This is the argument in Part VII of Capital I.
There is nothing metaphysical or philosophical in the pejorative
senses about this argument, but it deserves to be better understood
as does the nature of public finance.

>When you talk about reproduction, it often seems to me as though you are
>talking about procreation.

Cheap shot. You really don't apply principle of charity much, do you?
I have been explicitly referring
to Part VII of Capital.

Makoto whose analysis you referenced favorably argued that Marx's
discovery of simple and expanded reproduction could not have any
relation to the missing books. This is simply wrong.
Marx's theory of the nature of wage labour/slavery can only be seen
in the light of reproduction.
I can't keep up with all your points, so I am just speaking to one.

>Marx evidently did not stick to the six book plan, he attempted to write and
>publish what he could, in acceptable format. As I said, if somebody had paid
>him 10,000 pounds sterling he would probably have changed the storyline
>again and written more books.

So how much of the six book plan did he finish? I say that he
abandoned the plan altogether as is obvious from there being
absolutely no references to such a plan after around 1860. The
question (for me) is why he abandoned such a plan. Grossman's answer:
the working out of the process of reproduction allowed Marx to
organize his materials in a new way. Here was a theoretical break.
Argument deserves as much attention as the other more famous breaks
with Hegel, historicism, humanism.


>  Even so he was a stroppy man who didn't always
>do what was in his own best interest. Many aspects of his lifestyle and work
>habits are not worth emulating.
>I would say that since wage-labour requires discussion of labor legislation,
>the book on the state would precede the book on wage labour. Even so, Marx
>already discusses wage labor in Cap. Vol. 1. Obviously you can hardly
>discuss wages in separation from state policy, and in fact Marx already
>refers to several acts of parliament when he discusses wage labour.
>Seems to me that all you are really saying so far is that wage-labour must
>be understood as a process in movement, in the sense that Marx commented
>that capital could only be understood "in motion".
>We can dispute forever and a day about what Marx could/would/should/might
>have written, but the question is whether we grasp what he did write, and
>whether that inspires us to write something better.
>I'm aware of Shaikh's and Gough's work etc. on the social wage. Here in
>Holland, the CPB recently estimated that the financial benefit from the
>welfare state is significantly larger for high income than low income
>workers (a perverse outcome you might say of decades of social democracy) -
>this becomes a neoliberal "middleclass capture" argument for reducing
>welfare provision to a social safety net. As yet the Left doesn't have much
>of a coherent reply to that, because few understand much about public
>You haven't really responded to my points much except for hammering
>reproduction. The point really is that these debates among economists about
>wage theory etc. are so abstract as to be useless for any practical or
>research purpose. A good economist starts with real facts and the
>explanation of real facts, and then brings in theory to guide him along.
>Then theory has a purpose, and it is modified by experience. Otherwise we
>might as well dispute how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.
>Theory means generalisations from experience which are not reducible to
>particular experiences and go beyond them. Theory divorced from experience
>is meta-theory, theory about theory, generalisations about generalisations,
>metaphysics, or philosophy. We can sort of pontificate, and talk theory
>about theory, and think we are very profound, but frankly I doubt whether it
>helps anybody much. In my own opinion, the main reason why Marxist theory
>globally hasn't advanced much beyond repetitions of what Marx said is
>because Marxists rarely study the facts comprehensively, and maybe they
>don't even know how to study the facts. There are of course a number of
>honorable exceptions which prove the rule.

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