Re: [OPE] Valuations, the Austrians and Kantorovich reply to Alejandro

From: Alejandro Agafonow (
Date: Mon Feb 25 2008 - 06:32:45 EST

But production price or natural value is very much the same of labour content. The Norwegian Austro-liberal Trygve Hoff in his Economic Calculation in the Socialist Society (1938), also wrote that motor-headlights or tillers could serve as reference signal if properly used.
The problem is that most Marxists think that production price has both roles: (1) reference signal and (2) state of the control system. Overcoming this contradiction has been the kernel of yours and Cottrell’s model.
Unfortunately, I think you don’t realize it yet. That’s why you assert following Kantorovich that “valuations arise from the objective structure of the conditions of production”. This assertion contradicts the function of prices in your model, that is: (2) state of the control system.
But this carries us to our former debate about the gravitation centre: labour or prices? And I have not time to develop further this debate right now. As I said, I’m going to write a paper dealing with the issue.
Kind regards,
Alejandro Agafonow

----- Mensaje original ----
De: Paul Cockshott <>
Para: Outline on Political Economy mailing list <>
Enviado: lunes, 25 de febrero, 2008 11:54:43
Asunto: [OPE] Valuations, the Austrians and Kantorovich reply to Alejandro

Alejandro Agafonow wrote:
> Yes Paul, I agree with you.
> When Austrians refers to “value”, they mean subjective value, that is: 
> utility, /ophelimite/. But you know that Mises recognized that labour 
> time could serve as counting unit, even though he had further 
> objections to its use.
> Concerning energy I’m not so sure. That’s because you need a further 
> devise to link counting unit and subjective preferences. In your model 
> this is made by a sort of prices expressed in labour tokens.
> But, what kind of equivalent devise you can think for energy?
I do not advocate it, but the method would be the same, you would mark 
all goods with the number of Joules that they required to make them, pay 
incomes out in Joules accounts and allow people to purchase up to this 
limit. If demand fell short of supply one would have to decide that part 
of the energy expended was 'socially unecessary energy' and discount the 
sale price whilst energy use was cut from that sector.

The general points form here are:

1. It is possible to carry out a form of decentralised and locally 
approximate economic optimisation if one has some scalar valuation of 
all inputs. It does not matter what the unit of account is.

2. Any system of control needs two signals, the reference signal 
indicating what we want to achieve, and the current state of the 
controlled system.
picture of feedback loop
in the model Allin and I argue for, the reference signal is labour 
content and the current state of the controlled system is the clearing 
price of the good. I think that basically the same reference and control 
signals optain in capitalism. But one could have other reference and 
control signals, many marxian economist argue that the reference signal 
is production price not value. One could also hypothesise social 
relations in which the reference signal was 'CO2 emission content'.

3. Kantorovich shows that valuations arise from the objective structure 
of the conditions of production, his objectively determined valuations. 
The point I make about approximativity in point one is that these ODVs 
are local -- they obtain only in the neighbourhood of the point of 
intersection between the convex hull of the production frontier and the 
plan ray. They do not convey the same information under other conditions
a) when one is in the interior of the convex hull ( ie when there are 
slack resources in the system )
b) when one is at a different point on the surface of the hull

What the development of interior point methods shows is that one can 
perform the types of economicaly rational calculations that, according 
to the Austrian school, are supposed to require prices and valuations, 
by use of other mathematical methods -- the use of potential functions 
which one maximises.

> Alejandro Agafonow
> ----- Mensaje original ----
> De: Paul Cockshott <>
> Para: Outline on Political Economy mailing list <>
> Enviado: lunes, 25 de febrero, 2008 0:55:28
> Asunto: RE: [OPE] devaluation and revaluation of variable capital
> «The kernel of Mises’s theory of calculation is this: while 
> calculation in terms of money prices is the essential intellectual 
> tool of entrepreneurs acting in a market economy, calculation in terms 
> of “value” is impossible. A calculus can only be performed with 
> multiples of an extended unit; for example, one can add one apple to 
> another apple or one grain of silver to another grain of silver. In 
> contrast, one cannot add a telephone to a piano concerto and still 
> less can one add wittiness to silence. These things are 
> incommensurable and therefore cannot be linked through mathematical 
> operations. So it is with value. One cannot quantify the value of a 
> thing because value is not extensive and therefore not measurable. […] 
> However, value can be qualitatively “imputed” from consumer goods to 
> factors of production, in the sense of a value dependency: those 
> factors of production are valuable only because they serve to produce 
> valuable consumer goods. But there is no such thing as quantitative 
> value and thus no value calculation; there is only price calculation.» 
> (Jörg Guido Hülsmann. /Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, 
> / 
> <> pp. 399-400)
> Kind Regards,
> Alejandro Aagafonow
> That objection hardly applies to any embodied theory of value, whether 
> the embodied unit be labour or energy. The embodied quantity is 
> expressed as a scalar projection along a single dimension and can thus 
> be used in economic calculation.
> ----- Mensaje original ----
> De: Jurriaan Bendien <>
> Para : Outline on Political Economy mailing list <>
> Enviado: lunes, 11 de febrero, 2008 21:31:05
> Asunto: [OPE] devaluation and revaluation of variable capital
> Alejandro,
> Your reply does not seem very intelligent to me, though you are 
> obviously intelligent. I am not a Marxist at all, and I do not think 
> that Marx exhaustively describes or explains all the phenomena of 
> economic value. I have never argued that either, as far as I am aware. 
> Nor do I think that Marx claimed anything like that.
> Although I don't prefer Ernest Mandel's style (though he writes 
> clearly, at least), he makes a perfectly valid point:
> "[Marx's Capital] was never intended as a handbook to help governments 
> to solve such problems as balance-of-payments deficits, nor yet as a 
> learned, if somewhat trite, explanation of all the exciting happenings 
> in the marketplace when Mr Smith finds no buyer for the last of his 
> 1,000 tons of iron. It was intended as an explanation of what would 
> happen to labour, machinery, technology, the size of enterprises, the 
> social structure of the population, the discontinuity of economic 
> growth, and the relations between workers and work, as the capitalist 
> mode of production unfolded all its terrifying potential. >From that 
> point of view, the achievement is truly impressive." (Cap. Vol. 1, 
> Penguin intro, p. 22-23).
> I could quibble with phrases such as "terrifying potential", but the 
> main point is fair enough I think.
> I do not understand how marginal utilities provide any useful 
> precision, because "utility" is something which is barely quantifiable 
> as such, if at all. I can quantify "utility" only by finding proxies 
> which, according to some argument, provide an indicator of utility, 
> but the whole thing quickly becomes tautological. Of interest to me is 
> not an ideological justification of the rationality or usefulness of 
> markets, I'm convinced they have their place, but an explanation of 
> how they really function, never mind the bullshit, and that's much harder.
> If you know anything about the world economy, you know that "scarcity" 
> does not ultimately explain very much about the allocation of global 
> resources, and anyway the very concept of scarcity is as problematic 
> as the concept of value, insofar as it has both subjective and 
> objective aspects. I would not deny that scarcity is an important 
> allocative principle or that scarcity can influence prices, but 
> insisting on that doesn't solve any problem, since there are many 
> different kinds of scarcity. If scarcity is to have any explanatory 
> power, I would need to get highly specific about what sort of scarcity 
> we are talking about.
> The concept of "average socially necessary labourtime" refers to a 
> relationship between supply of products and the need for those 
> products, recognized via effective demand. That concept may not be 
> adequate for an economist interested in the optimal allocation of 
> (scarce) resources, but it was adequate for the purpose of Marx's 
> critique of political economy. Marx was hardly an expert in the 
> optimal allocation of resources, I mean, he couldn't even make an 
> independent living on his own strength. He had great strengths, but 
> that wasn't one of them.
> I'll try one of these days, if I see an opportunity, to visit Austria 
> , and I will see if I come to different or better conclusions. For the 
> rest, I do think a number of points you make are quite valid and I can 
> learn from them - in that sense you are fighting the wrong guy. That 
> aside, these topics are very complex, and I regret to say I have not 
> yet found an adequate way to express my ideas about them effectively, 
> in a very concise way. I do not have the leisure to think through the 
> problems thoroughly as I would like, to get to a good crisp 
> formulation of their essence. That is why I am rather reluctant to say 
> a lot about it at this stage. Other OPE-Lers can do so better than I 
> can, and it's better if I mainly follow the discussion.
> My reference to gross output is not trivial, since the total number of 
> actual and ideal prices extant in the world is a multiple of the 
> prices implied in gross output. Marx was primarily concerned with the 
> valuation of the new output of capitalist production, not all prices, 
> or all assets, for which labour-value may be largely irrelevant.
> Jurriaan
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