[OPE-L:465] Re: Gil Skillman's unwanswered question

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Fri, 10 Nov 1995 00:54:35 -0800

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Alan Freeman is worried about placing too much reliance
on empirical data, as:

"This leaves us with the arguments that the 'average' case
is in some sense 'true' observably. I think these are
quite vulnerable and the following point should be
considered: if value *in fact* differs from price, that
is, if calculations to this effect are in fact wrong,
then by attempting to refute theoretical arguments about
the magnitude of value by immediate reference to
empirical facts, we could be digging quite a large hole
both for ourselves and for the view that labour time is
the magnitude of value."

"For, suppose we refute Gil's argument the basis of
empirical observations. Then, if these observations fall,
the whole argument falls. I think the argument that price
is empirically close to value falls in this category."

Well if the theory is false, what is the point in propagating

Adequacy to the facts is the criterion all science must
obey. Suppose that we were to find that prices were not in
practice determined by labour values but instead by the
electricity content of commodities. Suppose that variations
in the labour content of goods had no predictive power with
respect to their prices, but that cutting the electrical
content produced a linear decline in price. Were this the case,
then the whole analysis of relative surplus value would
fall. Indeed it would point to a physiocratic concept of
surplus, with the electricity industry as the ultimate producer
of surplus value.

Were this true, to continue to adhere to the labour theory
of value would be just blind prejudice.

If I were to demonstrate the spontaneous generation of mice
from old shirts, then Darwinism would fall.

But until someone comes up with these or similar factual refutations
of Marx and Darwin I will continue to place great reliance on them.

Alan goes on to argue that Marx was aware of price value
deviations at least from when he wrote Poverty of Philosophy,
and that the existence of such theoretically admited
deviations undermines any empirical foundation for the
labour theory of value.

One must distinguish here between stochastic and systematic
deviations of price from value. Supply and demand imbalances
are constantly causing individual prices to oscilate around
values. This has to be recognised. What is at issue is
the mean of the probability distribution. Is this determined
a) value,
b) price of production, or
c) is it part way between the two, or
d) are the two so close together in practice as to be statistically
e) determined by something else altogether - electricity,
phosphorous etc.

If e) then the whole of Capital falls. If a) and not d) then
volume 1 stands and volume 3 falls. If b) and not d) then
Vols 1 and 3 both stand. If d) then volume 3s price theory
is not false but redundant. If c) then both are partially
true and we have a new theoretical problem to explain the
limits of the two mechanisms.

An emprical foundation