[OPE-L:731] Re: LTV an assumption?

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 13 Dec 1995 18:38:07 -0800

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Andrew writes:

> Gil suggests that Oslo, Avesta, and Kronstadt have nothing in common
> simply because they lie close to the 60th parallel. He says this against
> Marx's argument that commodities exchange as containers of a "third thing."
> But of course these places do have something in common. The relevant
> commonality to this example is that they all exist in space and,
> in particular, on the near-spherical surface of the earth, which allows
> them to be placed at a certain latitude and longitude.

Yes, just so. One can infer all the correlates of lying on the 60th parallel of the
planet earth, the condition upon which an equivalence relationship
was asserted to begin with--but nothing more.

> Try the same
> parallel :-) with giraffes, Augustinian theology, and logarithms, and
> you see that it wouldn't work.

This example is *not* parallel, since these entities have not been placed in an
equivalence class to begin with. Try a counter-example closer to the
mark: suppose that a game show host asks, what was on Marx's mind
the moment he died? and suppose the three contestants answered:
giraffes, Augustinian theology, and (yellow?) logarithms. This would
establish giraffes, Augustinian theology, and logarithms as being
equivalent in the sense of being responses to the game show host's
question. But no other element in common among them is thereby

> This does not of course tell us WHY commodities exchange--but Marx was NOT
> trying to do so. He was trying to tell us AS WHAT they exchange. Bohm-
> Bawerk was surely right that they wouldn't exchange unless they were
> scarce, objects of utility, owned, etc. (Interestingly, Marx himself of
> course says they must be objects of utility in order to exchange, esp.
> in Ch. 2 of Capital.) But Bohm-Bawerk simply missed the point, because
> he was so concentrated on "explaining" prices that he didn't see that
> Marx was trying to investigate the nature of the COMMODITY, not
> exchange or exchange-ratios.

The point Bohm-Bawerk may have missed is irrelevant, since it has
nothing to do with what I'm arguing. Marx's "investigation of the
nature of the commodity" is based on an invalid premise, since
relationships of exchange do not "establish something equal."

> Gil is not quite right that the literature has failed to answer Bohm's
> criticism. I have done so in a recent paper, delivered at the EEA last
> March and posted in the Marxism list archives. (If anyone is on that list
> and can upload it into ope-l, please do!) It elaborates on this point, but
> especially shows that the initial part of Ch. 1 of Capital is not concerned
> to explain exchange or exchange-ratios, but rather the nature of the
> commodity itself. (Oh yeah, the paper is called "Marx's Development of the
> Concept of Intrinsic Value, 1859-1872".)

I didn't say the literature has failed to address Bohm-Bawerk's
criticism. I said that later commentators have failed to address the
problem that a system of exchange establishes relationships of
equivalence but not equality. B-B mentions this in passing but does
not explore its significance, and it is certainly not the main point
of his argument, as Andrew's previous comments indicate. The entire
enterprise of looking for a "common element" held by all
commodities--whether that be labor, energy, use-value, whatever--is
pointless, since no "equality" has been established by the fact of

In particular, my criticism in no way depends on whether Marx
was or was not attempting to explain "exchange or exchange ratios."

Gil Skillman