From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jul 11 2007 - 13:42:44 EDT
Dear Ajit, That's fair enough and I am grateful that you took time to reply to my queries anyhow. I have a few things to say about it, but I do not expect you to respond if you don't want to. I will read your articles as I am able to get hold of them. I know you have to assume some background knowledge, if you write a scholarly article, but you can also become too cryptic, in the sense that something that is in truth controversial is swept under the carpet. A quick ten points: 1) I guess for most of us, we do some that's old hat, an a bit of our own that's new. You do actually do pretty careful scholarship which I have respect for, pointing out mistaken vulgar interpretations, and quite a few of your conclusions are new, at least they are new to me. 2) By value-ontology I mean Marx's categorisation (if you like, definition of units of meaning and their relationship) of the existence of value-related phenomena in bourgeois society. This categorisation is not fixed and absolute as you might have in a statistical classification (where at most you have boundary problems), it is a dialectical categorisation in which the categories may evolve to some or other extent, and are context-dependent. The categories are supposed to illuminate social and economic relationships, and it is really those relationships which are of prime importance, rather than the categories per se. 3) I have the feeling that I have a different understanding of the "theoretical problematic of value". In classical political economy, you have a certain sort of problematic, to which you refer. The problematic of value could be stated in different ways. But more generally, questions arise about why value exists, how it exists, what forms it takes, and when it takes those forms. You as an economist seek a set of economic categories adequate to explaining the dynamics of production and distribution (and their linkage) in such a way that it is logically and mathematically rigorous. And therefore, if the concepts do not meet your criteria, you are likely to throw them out. But I am much more concerned with categories which, although they might not be completely rigorous in that sense, help to explain social and economic phenomena which actually evade exact definition anyway due to the complexity, changeability or "fuzz" of aspects of the reality I am dealing with. 4) Marx at least argues that a product has value, if it is produced by human labour, and people economise the use of that product knowing that. This abstract definition is of transhistorical application. All that changes in different epochs, is the forms in which this value happens to be expressed. In bourgeois society you have a near-universal market which means that nearly every value also has an exchange-value, which in turn means, that most values can be quantitatively expressed in money-units. If a product is not being offered for sale, it may however still be a commodity. Indeed, a company as a "going concern" may be treated as a commodity by investors, even although currently its assets are not being offered for sale. Commodities may be warehoused or stockpiled etc. at which point they may not be offered for sale. In Marxist theory, a commodity is simply a object produced for sale with a use-value and an exchange value, but in Marx's own theory that is not so. A commodity has a social use-value, a material use-value, a utility for the buyer, an exchange-value, a value, a market value, a production price (we could distinguish between enterprise, sectoral and economic production prices), and an actual market price. It may also have a rental value, an accounting price or some sort of other ideal price. In the case of some pseudo-commodities, notional commodities or fictive commodities, they may have a utility for the buyer and an exchange-value, but no value. But a commodity is in addition an alienable object, meaning that it is subject to transferable private property rights which are legally or practically defined. The transformation of a labor-product into a commodity (its "marketing") is thus in reality not a simple process, but has many technical and social preconditions as I mentioned in a wiki article. These often include: - the existence of a reliable supply of a product, or at least a surplus or surplus product. - the existence of a social need for it (a market demand) that must be met through trade, or at any event cannot be met otherwise. - the legally sanctioned assertion of private ownership rights to the commodity. - the enforcement of these rights, so that ownership is secure. - the transferability of these private rights from one owner to another. - the (physical) transferability of the commodity itself, i.e. the ability to store, package, preserve and transport it from one owner to another. - the imposition of exclusivity of access to the commodity. - the possibility of the owner to use or consume the commodity privately. - guarantees about the quality and safety of the commodity, and possibly a guarantee of replacement or service, should it fail to function as intended. Thus, the "commodification" of a good or service often involves a considerable practical accomplishment in trade. It is a process that may be influenced not just by economic or technical factors, but also political and cultural factors, insofar as it involves property rights, claims to access to resources, and guarantees about quality or safety of use. The "commodity form" in Marx's own theory is itself not fixed once and for all, but historically emergent and subject to changes and development. In simple commodity production, for instance, the sale of the commodity may be episodic rather than regular (there is no necessary intention that it is produced exclusively for sale) and it may not be produced "by means of commodities" or exclusively so. 5) My own argument about why Marx talks about value at all would be along the following lines (1) he aims to ground his categories in the real history of commercial trade, (2) he is interested in value relations which exist quite independently of prices and which help explain price formation, (3) he knows that you cannot even group, relate, or aggregate prices meaningfully without reference to some kind of value theory. All accounting assumes concepts which define the categorisation of comparable value (value equivalence), value used up, conserved value, transferred value, and newly created value. 6) Marx I think did not primarily seek to "prove exploitation" because he knew that people are well aware of exploitation, and that it manifestly occurs. You don't have to prove exploitation exists. He aimed rather to theorise it, and explain it, with the aim of making the working classes more self-aware and socially aware of the meaning of wage-slavery and what it will lead to. In reality, his concept of labour-power does not differ a great deal from Ricardo and Smith, as Ian Steedman shows philologically, but Marx does differ from Ricardo and Smith in his theory of what the category of labour-power implies, what its social and economic significance is. 7) I don't agree that Marx's concept of value is an incoherent idea, but I do agree that the concept evolves in the course of his dialectical analysis, and therefore in some aspects may defy formal-logical criteria. However, formal-logical coherence is anyway not a requirement for the "coherence" of a concept. The coherence requirement is only that the concept be non-arbitrary, i.e. that we can give good reasons for employing that concept rather than another, in a consistent way. In statistical classifications, we sometimes obtain the effect that the categorical system produces some results which violate logic and common sense. Nevertheless we keep the classification system, because it covers the majority of cases adequately. 8) You argue: "When you say "10A exchange for 5B" there is no problem. But you are mistaken in jumping from here to a mathematical equation such as: 10A = 5B. There is nothing in the exchange that tells you that you could put two bunch of commodities as "equal". But I am saying this proposition is both true and false. If this is the nature of the exchange, then in a real sense the commodity bunches ARE being equated and equalised. And oodles of economists and accountants DO jump from there to a "=" sign, precisely because of that evidence of the two being equated in trade. That is part of "price theory" and without it we cannot do very much there, because we cannot compare anything. But you are quite correct if you say that the sense in which they are equal or unequal depends on value-theoretical assumptions. Point is, if you had no value theory, the whole problem to which you refer doesn't even arise, because all you can say in that case is that 10A "must be equal" to 5B. At most you can hide your value-theoretical presuppositions, by talking about monetary theory etc. (In Das Kapital, Marx normally thinks of the "value" of a commodity as the ratio between the amount of labour required to produce a reproducible good, and the corresponding amount of labour required to produce a unit of gold, i.e. a monetary gold standard is as he says assumed). It is precisely the fact that, although 10A and 5B are equated, this equation may in substance express an exchange of unequal values, which explains the need for value theory of some sort beyond monetary comparisons. So what you project as a problem for Marx, is I think a problem for economics generally. In everyday life, you strike this problem all the time, because people ask themselves about "whether they are getting value for their money". They know that the sum of money they have will "equate" to a commodity, or that one commodity may equate with another, but it may be bought above or below its real value, that's the point. Even although economics may deny it, human beings are "valuing agents", and therefore there is ultimately no escape at all from value theory for the serious economist. All we can debate about is which value theory has more explanatory, heuristic and predictive power. That is, whether you like it or not, you have to assume some concept of value, if you want to do economics, whether eclectically or systematically. 9) According to historical materialism, the mode of distribution of resources is determined by the mode of production, to be precise by "the specific way in which surplus labour is pumped out of the direct producers". Another way of saying that is, that the property rights defining the relations of production determine how the social product will be distributed. Thus Marx argues that in producing commodities as capital, workers simultaneously reproduce the capital relationship, in so far as they have no title to the surplus they produce (however you want to define that). In the Sraffian system, as far as I understand, the way of distributing the product is relatively autonomous from the way of producing it. In that case we cannot infer very much about the system of distribution from the system of production. 10) Why I am critical of your proposition "the equalisation of profit rates does not affect the distribution of value between social classes" is because total surplus value may be distributed between different owning classes, and if workers own stocks & securities they may indeed participate in the share-out of surplus value. And if, for example, as a result of the equalisation of profit rates businesses have negative profits, this must impact on the distribution of value between the social classes. Jurriaan .
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