RE: [OPE] The availabilty of labor power in the context of expandedreproduction schemes

From: Damsma, D.F. <>
Date: Thu Jul 16 2009 - 13:00:51 EDT

Jurriaan, thanks for your response. I have put my comments in the text.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Jurriaan Bendien
Sent: donderdag 16 juli 2009 16:51
To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
Subject: [OPE] The availabilty of labor power in the context of expandedreproduction schemes


I still do not completely follow the logic of your argument. Surely the rising VCC can go together with both expanding labor supply, a constant labour supply or contracting labor supply?

Empirically yes, but Marx apparently makes the argument that
1. VCC shows a rising trend
2. Hence, economic growth will become ever more capital and less labor intensive
3. Eventually, population growth will surpass the extra labor power requirements of capital and thus the reserve army becomes structural.

Since Marx abhors Malthusian doctrines and treats population growth as exogeneous it is this last step which is most spurious. Empirics aside, if this is the argument Marx refers to, his reference is theoretically (albeit not empirically) incompatible with the assumption of a constant VCC.

Empirical evidence suggests that this is the case. For example, at the end of the long boom 1947-1973, during which the VCC rose, there was a labor shortage. But when this labor shortage subsequently turned into mass unemployment, the VCC still continued to rise.

In Capital Volume one, Marx is concerned with the relationships involved in the immediate production process of capital, he assumes inputs are bought at value and that all output is sold at value (even although he knows very well, that capitalists all aim to buy cheap and sell dear, they are constrained in this only by competition and market demand).

In Capital Volume 2, Marx argues that what must be demonstrated is how the economic reproduction process which must occur in ANY society can now be accomplished totally by means of the circulation of capital, and thus, the circulation of capital which "mediates" the reproduction process must conform to certain physical or economic (structural) necessities. But I think Marx's text is by no means "only" about how the circulation of capital can reconcile the growth of Department I and Department II.

A very apt description. Exactly since Volume 2 is about any capitalist society, specific empirics can have no role here. Have I suggested Marx writes '"only" about how the circulation of capital can reconcile the growth of Department I and Department II'?

The more capital grows, the bigger the discrepancy becomes between the "minimal capital required for simple reproduction", and the "maximum capital available for expanded reproduction". This means that the accumulation process itself creates a great deal of possible flexibility and variability between "minimal simple reproduction" and "maximal expanded reproduction".

I think you can infer a number of "structural constraints" for the growth of capital from Capital Vol. 2, but not all that many "laws of development".

Exactly, and some of those constraints are dialectically motivated inputs to the model and hence merely state the constraints dialectically (or otherwise, if you insist) determined earlier, while others are model specific simplifications (these are preferably dropped before moving to a more concrete stage) and yet others follow from the modelling exercise itself, since modelling may - for instance - bring out a discrepancy (or dialectical contradiction) between the model's (or moment's - in this case reproduction) isolated ideal world and its realization in the world.

As regards dialectical or paraconsistent reasoning, I regard it as non-arbitrary reasoning, but not as deductively compelling reasoning since it does not lead by logically necessity to only one conclusion (although it also rules out many conclusions). Personally I tend to think "systematic dialectics" is rather scholastic, and there is no proof that there is a "system".

I guess that depends on how you define system. I tend to think of Herbert Simon in that respect. At any rate, sociology, economics or politicology can only be studied by presuming that society consists of elements that are linked in structural ways so that discernable and relatively long lasting patterns can be inferred.

In dialectical thinking, any category can be deduced from any other category with the aid of a sufficient number of mediating links, and that is indeed precisely why Marx objected against the "Left Hegelians" and Proudhon because their "method of dialectical apposition" was arbitrary, if not altogether just a playing with word meanings.

I think Marx could have organised the narrative of his theoretical arguments ("the method of presentation") in numerous different ways, and indeed the different plans he had for his treatise on political economy show, that he envisaged various different possible sequences of narrative. He wrote far more manuscript that he actually ended up using and it is no clear why the manuscripts he left behind should be ordered ion any specific way. It is therefore inapposite to suggest, that there must be only "one necessary sequence" for the introduction of assumptions and arguments, in conformity with a dialectical principle.

Perhaps we could agree that several levels of abstraction are discernable in Capital and that the assumptions at a given level should be mutually consistent? If so, the problematic I raised still stands IMO.

That is, Marx could have "deduced" the set of arguments he has, by means of numerous different kinds of narratives. For example, he could have started his book with competition or with profit, and then inquire into the source of these, in order then to arrive, by steps, at all the other premises in his argument. Or, he could have started with the analysis of the labour process. Quite simply, he could have written Das Kapital in many different ways, and there was no logical necessity to write the narrative in any particular way. He just preferred a certain sequence.

It is of course legitimate to argue that Marx "should have written it this way or that way" to make his own argument more convincing, and indeed e.g.
Kozo Uno does exactly that. However, the proviso is, that we do not confuse the method of narrative (of story-telling) with the logical content of arguments. At the conclusion of a dialectical story, all its elements are arranged in a logically consistent way so that the whole story "explains itself" but the point is that the elements could have been arranged in various different ways.

The math in Capital Vol. 2 was comprehensively corrected by Engels. Engels reports that "Despite Marx's firm grasp of algebra, he was never at ease in reckoning with figures... in his turnover calculations Marx became confused..." (Penguin edition, p. 359).


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