[OPE-L:130] Re: the "law of value" (was: Marx's goals)

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Sun, 24 Sep 1995 13:01:25 -0700

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Paul writes:

> My view is that Gil is correct in saying one can demonstrate
> exploitation without using the law of value, but that is
> a quite different question from that of the validity of this
> law, which like that of all scientific laws depends on its
> conformity with empirical evidence.

Yes, I agree that a scientific law must be tested by conformity with
empirical evidence, as Paul suggests. However, my criticism here is
more fundamental: I'm saying that no "law" has been established in
the first place, unless one takes assumption or strict tautology as a
law. In other words, Paul's phrase "the validity of the law" begs
the central question.

Empirical correlation emphatically does not substitute for coherent
argument in establishing the basis for a scientific law. Historically, the
habit of drawing lawlike conclusions from mere empirical regularities
has led as often to superstition as to science: e.g. infamous
conclusions about black cats, Friday the 13th, full moons, breaking
mirrors, etc.

Often a close empirical correlation emerges simply because phenomena
of interest are manifestations of the same underlying conditions or
processes. Clearly no substantive "law" is being captured by any
such correlation. This is surely the case with respect to labor values and
prices of production (and by extension in well-developed capitalist
economies, averages of market prices, as long as one is careful to exclude
those goods for which the price is "imaginary"), both of which are
manifestations of the same underlying forces and relations of production.

I suspect that the empirical association between prices and values is
less close in less-developed market economies, but this is a side

The bottom line remains the same: no "law" of value has been established in
the first place, so to speak of empirical assessments of the "law" 's
validity begs the very question at issue.

Gil Skillman