[OPE-L] Reclaiming Marx's "Capital": book launch talks, reviews, media coverage

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Aug 21 2007 - 02:10:00 EDT

I was disappointed by Kliman's book and I will tell you why. Although the TSSI perspective (originally mooted by French economist Michel Husson in 1980 http://hussonet.free.fr/perez.pdf) makes or reiterates many good points, Kliman's book is largely an ego document, interspersed with many lengthy and tedious digressions that are scarcely relevant to the topic. With a quasi-religious fervour, Kliman seeks to forge a new doctrine that could provide intellectual security for Marxists in an age of uncertainty about the faith. The exposition of the argument is sometimes clear, but often disappointingly bad, because you have to be very familiar with the contemporary scholarly literature already to be able to follow it, and because Kliman cites from articles by other thinkers mainly to show how stupid or wrong they all are. This makes it an elitist book.

Kliman nevertheless claims in all modesty to provide "the most accessible full-length treatment of the controversy over Marx's value theory to date" (p. xv). That is more a a marketing statement, than the truth - it is a highly partisan reading of the controversy, which selects out some issues and ignores others. Because Kliman's interpretation of what others argue therefore cannot be trusted, you practically have to have access to a research library to read all the other stuff anyway, for a proper evaluation (if you have the time to do that). It would be good to have an "accessible full-length treatment of the controversy over Marx's value theory to date" but this book isn't it. 

Some of the claims he makes are clearly absurd, such as his claim that only surplus labour is the source of all current profits. Any thinking economist knows this cannot be true, since already existing assets can be traded at a profit without any surplus labour being involved at all. What Marx was talking about, was the source of profits with respect to the new output produced within the capitalist mode of production, and indeed Marx himself explicitly acknowledged the existence of "profit upon alienation". Kliman's new myth in this regard is analogous to the myth that GDP measures total national income. It illustrates the problems which arise when scholars mistake abstractions for a direct representation of empirical reality.

To catch the flavour of Kliman's book, consider this bit in the preface:

"My inability to defend the allegation of inconsistency persisted... finally impelling me to re-examine the primary source - Bortkiewicz's (1952) proof of Marx's error. I sat down and, within an hour, produced a refutation of Bortkiewicz's proof...This proved to be a life-altering experience." (p. xiv).

All of this is supposed to have happened while Kliman was a Phd student in the citadel of the Mormons. He just has a very modest and "neutral" way of telling you how brilliant he is and how stupid other scholars are. But being bright - which he no doubt is - isn't everything. Fair and accurate representation of arguments is also important, as is the ability to communicate well with readers. The basic problem with the book as a whole is that whereas Kliman makes much of how Marx's true idea has been "misrepresented" and "suppressed", he has no qualms at all about misrepresenting and suppressing other scholars whom he regards as the enemy. That is why I think that although people will accept some of his points, they will fail to be convinced by the whole show.


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