[OPE-L:727] Re: LTV an assumption?

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 13 Dec 1995 13:50:00 -0800

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> ===========================================================================
> Welcome back, Gil! Instead of suggesting the metaphysical source of flu,
> though, as "hell", one would be better advised to look to the material
> and social world for an explanation. (somehow this relates to the subject of
> this post). :-)
But Jerry, I *meant* "hell* in the social-material rather than
theological sense.
> ===========================================================================
> Gil reproduces, in part, the following from Fred (I am deleting some):
> > > 1. Marx's analysis of the commodity is based on two methodological
> > > presuppositions:
> > > a. Capitalism should be analyzed in terms of its objective
> > > characteristics.
> > > b. The commodity is analyzed as a GENERAL EQUIVALENT to all other
> > > commodities.
> > > 2. Marx then argued that the general equivalence of commodities requires
> > > which their equivalence is determined.
> > > 3. Marx quoted Aristotle approvingly on these two points:
> > > There can be no exchange without equality,
> > > and no equality without commensurability. (C.I. 151)
> > because there
> > > is no way to reduce any of these useful qualities to a homogeneous unit of
> > > measure; i.e. that there are not and cannot be meaningfully made to be
> > > commensurable.
> Then Gil responds:
> > The problem here is that both Marx and Aristotle are wrong, having
> > committed a fundamental logical error (or rather, Aristotle committed
> > the error and Marx followed him). As Fred's own wording
> > suggests, a system of exchange establishes a relationship of
> > *equivalence*, not *equality*, the difference being precisely that
> > one cannot infer from the former that elements of an equivalence set
> > contain any other "common property" (much less "common, homogeneous
> > property") other than that which placed them in the set--in this
> > case, paraphrasing Marx, that x boot-polish, y silk, and z gold are
> > all equivalent in being exchanged for a quarter of wheat.
> >
> > For example, Oslo, Norway, Avesta, Sweden, and Kronshtadt, Russia are
> > equivalent in lying within a certain distance of the 60th parallel.
> > But even if the parallel ran right through the middle of each of them, one
> > could not conclude that these entities share some other "common
> > element."
> ============================================================================
> Firstly, I don't see how the Oslo/Avesta/Kronstadt analogy has *any*
> merit for discussing this question -- unless one believes that
> geographical location expressed in degrees of latitude and longitude is a
> major factor for understanding these urban areas.

Ah, but if you accepted Marx's inference about the implications of
"equivalence" as opposed to "equality", then despite your objection
the fact that these localities were equivalent in one dimension
should establish that they share some measurable common element.

To put the shoe on your foot: on what authority do you assert that
the mere accident, shared by several commodities, that they are all
exchanged for a certain quantity of yet another commodity, establish
a "major factor" about the former from which one can draw inferences
about a measurable element common to them all?

> Secondly (and more important), you are treating Fred's two
> "presuppositions" as entirely separate and distinct. Yet, surely 1b, 2, and
> 3 above *ALL* relate, in part, to *1a* ("Capitalism should be analyzed in
> terms of its objective characteristics").

They relate to it, sure. I grant the first methodological premise
Fred mentions. But the fact remains that "general equivalence" based
on exchange relations does not support the inference of some "common
(homogeneous) feature." Thus step 2 cannot lead to step 3, no matter
what Aristotle says.

> Thirdly, to emphasize the distinction between "equality" and
> "equivalence" only suggests that there may be price-value deviations.

Absolutely not. This has nothing to do with it. The only
equivalence claimed is that quantities x, y, and z of commodities a,
b, and c respectively are equivalent in being exchanged for, say, a
"quarter of wheat." No claims about "price-value deviations" are
indicated; in fact, "value" understood as separate from
exchange-value has no meaning at this opening stage of Marx's

> Fourthly, at this level of analysis, Marx is attempting to specify the
> *source* of value and is not primarily concerned with the quantitative
> *measurement* of value.

Again, irrelevant. He *is* insisting that there must be some element
common to exchanged commodities which is *capable* of measurement.
This inference cannot be drawn on the sole basis of exchange.

> Fifthly (partially in response to Steve K.), before Marx can go on to
> discuss the relation of "living labor" and "dead labor" in terms of the
> creation of value and surplus value, he must *first* identify the
> *source* of value.

Perhaps. But the argument by which he "identifies" this source is

> ========================================================================
> > Another example, closer to home. Assume for a moment that Marx does
> > not simply assume his conclusion in the argument beginning Chapter 1
> > of Volume I; that is, suppose he has not limited the discussion at
> > the outset *by fiat* to exchangeables which are the product of labor.
> > Nothing in the logical structure of Marx's argument from exchange
> > rules out the following parallel conclusion: suppose a quarter of wheat
> > exchanges for x boot-polish, y silk, or z unimproved land. Then by exactly
> > parallel reasoning, and I quote, "[t]herefore x boot-polish, y silk,
> > z [unimproved land]...must, as exchange values, be mutually
> > replaceable {which by the way, also doesn't follow, except under
> > very strict market conditions} or of identical magnitude."
> >
> > OK, so there must then be some "common element" that unimproved land
> > shares with boot-polish and silk, by which this "identical magnitude"
> > may be measured....but it can't be labor! Ooops.
> ===========================================================================
> Marx, at this level of analysis, is concerned with the *production* of
> commodities under capitalism. Land is not *produced*, yet it has a market
> price. This distinction, far from contradicting Marx's theory or being a
> simple presupposition, is explained when Marx turns, much later, to the
> question of absolute and differential ground rent.

I already addressed this point in my original post. Nothing in the
logical structure of Marx's argument from the conditions of exchange
rules out a parallel argument based on, e.g., unimproved land. Thus,
if exchangeables which are not products of labor are ruled out a
priori, this is not so because of the logic of Marx's argument, but
by fiat. In other words, Marx is thereby *assuming* what
must be *proven.* I prefer to believe that Marx did not simply try
to address the question by begging it.

> Does the *fact* that some commodities are not produced contradict Marx's
> theory of value? I think not. Suppose I were to walk along the
> Connecticut shore and find ambergris or an oyster with a valuable pearl
> inside. Surely, I could sell these objects for $ even though they were
> not "produced" (except by whales and oysters). However, if we immerse
> ourselves in such exceptions we concentrate on the realm of immediate
> appearance and ignore the underlying *social* characteristics of
> commodity production and value.

Possibly. But Marx's argument as to the "reality" underlying
immediate appearances is still invalid.

> Marx wanted to analyze capitalism in terms of its objective -- material
> and social -- characteristics. Fred's "1a" above is simply a logical
> extension of Marx's materialist conception of history. For Marx, the
> *source* of value can not be found in either the natural world or the
> realm of individual freedom and choice. If labor is *not* the source of
> value, then what non-natural, non-individual, non-subjective source can
> there be? I would add here that Steve's question concerning the source
> of surplus value *only* becomes a question after we have determined the
> source of value itself.

This argument begs at least 2 questions: first, that there is
a unique and well-defined notion of value, and second, that value
understood in this sense has a unique and well defined "source".
These claims are not established in Volume I.
In any case, these questions do not alter the fact that Marx's inference is

> ==========================================================================
> > Since this first premise of Marx's argument falls, the rest of it is
> > irrelevant. Thus there is no basis in Marx's argument of Chapter 1
> > for the conclusion that the basis of exchange value is "congealed
> > human labour."
> ==========================================================================

Gil Skillman