[OPE-L:901] re: constant capital and levels of abstraction

John R. Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 13:07:08 -0800

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Mike's post concerning "levels of abstraction" and
"moral depreciation" makes me nervous. No, the
feeling is not due to a fear that I've been
harping about "moral depreciation" at the wrong
level of abstraction but rather a fear, perhaps
unwarranted, that I am about to see an all too
familiar Marxist dodge. Let me explain.

When a concept or though of Marx's doesn't fit into
the standard interpretation of Marx, I have often
heard that "it will be dealt with later when we
reach that level of abstraction." My experience
teaches me that we never will reach that level.

I do note that Marx himself does introduce "moral
depreciation" as part of the depreciation of fixed
capital when he takes up the concepts of absolute
and relative surplus value. I would also point out
that Fred and I have reached clarity about our
disagreement without telling each other that we are
on the wrong level of abstraction. For the record,
Fred and I have an advantage, we have been house mates
and have discussed and argued about concepts in Marx's
CAPITAL for over 20 years. As I recall, we started
this discussion about "reproduction values" in the
summer of 1981. We are both clearer about the issue
now than we were then.

At the level of Vol. I, the issue is basic. Fred claims
that as "moral depreciation" occurs it is a deduction
from surplus value. I claim that much of it is
anticipated and included in the value of constant capital.
Thus, as moral depreciation occurs, Fred and I would differ
on the calculations concerning the rate of surplus value.
This is the level of abstraction where we find ourselves.
Thus, like Marx, I do not think the notion of "moral
depreciation" can be put off entirely until Vol. III
or some later work. It is thrust upon us as we discuss
the division of the working day.