[OPE-L] Truncating Marx

From: David Laibman (dlaibman@SCIENCEANDSOCIETY.COM)
Date: Sun Sep 09 2007 - 15:00:33 EDT

Dear OPE comrades,
    I have been trying to follow several related threads (equilibrium,
TSSI, method, etc.), and getting frustrated as usual not being able to
keep up.  This is why I am usually a lurker.
    But I *must* offer a small whimper at a comment in a post by Anders,
which refers to the "whole Bortkiewicz-Laibman tradition."
    Wow!  In one sense I am flattered.  But Bortkiewicz was a crotchety
anti-Marx writer who thought he had stuck it to Marx.  The TSS-ers take
this much too seriously.  There are no contradictions or
"inconsistences" in Marx; only some incompleteness in the formalization
of the quantitative side of the theory.  The properties of the
production/surplus extraction/value formation system can be studied
using *both* simultaneous equations *and* sequential/dynamic systems;
these are complementary approaches, not mutually excluding
alternatives.  The so-called contradictions (Bortkiewicz) only arise
because a particular limiting case of the value system (usually notated
by the lambda vector) is given too much prominence -- in the study of
*capitalism* -- by *both* Marx and Bortkiewicz!  *Labor* value is
*formed* under the impact of the formation of a general rate of profit.
There is indeed a *single system*.  There are no transformation
invariances, and therefore no inconsistencies.  I think that the value
system that has evolved in our literature to describe the benchmark case
of profit-rate equality at the level of abstraction of unobstructed
reproduction (the abstract capitalist economy) -- as it has evolved from
Bortkiewicz (whatever his personal intentions) to Sraffa, Dobb, Meek,
Sweezy, Shaikh, and, yes, even Laibman --is *more* "single-system,"
*more* consistent, less eclectic, not anti-theoretical, and (here I
write with reservations and warnings about "textualism") *more* in
keeping with the spirit and essential content of Marx's work than
anything the TSS crowd has produced.
    So, please, don't associate me with any of Bortkiewicz's accusations
against Marx.  They don't hold water, in my opinion.
    But.  I also don't accept the characterization "Sraffa-like, static
linear algebra."  There is nothing static about identifying inner,
structural properties of the capitalist production/exploitation/value
formation system; to the contrary, isolating those properties is the
central task of value theory.  Isolating benchmark (you can even, with
appropriate care, say "equilibrium") structures is crucial for
understanding dis-equilibrium, transformative properties.  Marx has a
beautiful formulation, about the law of value asserting itself only
through its continual violation.  This captures the dialectic.
"Non-equilibrium" can mean anything.  By contrasting, inherent pressure
toward disruption of equilibrium points toward analyzable
transformation, and (eventually) transcendence.
    Finally, I must agree with Ian and register a skeptical note
concerning Fred's attempt to distinguish between simultaneous and
(non-TSS) sequential value determination.  If we tell the Vol. III, ch.
9 story about pooling-and-redistribution of surplus value, we get the
constant elements of constant capital story that Fred elevates into
"Marx's method."  But no matter what you call it, you must, I think,
confront the question: what happens next?  After surplus value is
redistributed and production prices formed, the elements of constant
capital take on new values (based on the newly formed prices of
production).  What now prevents *another* round of
pooling-and-redistribution from taking place?  Again, you *either* have
to say, well, too much "time" has passed,.and things move on: technical
change, social change, etc.  Then we are back into the empirical record,
untheorized.  (Let's not worry about what the TSS-ers say; I dislike
textualism applied to Marx; even more so, to TSSI!)  *Or* you let
temporal iterations of pooling-and-redistribution proceed, to a second
and third round and beyond, holding real-historical change in abeyance
by means of theory, and you have, in the limit, the much-maligned
simultaneous solution.
    In solidarity,

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