Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Thu, 1 Feb 1996 04:04:48 -0800

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Paul Z writes: [OPE:900; 31/01]

For those of us not into value theory debates, it is a bit
difficult to propose a redirection at this time. After all,
there is enough activity on the value issue to suggest that
those interested should continue until exhaustion or victory by
one side or another (just joking).

Though Paul kindly says he is just joking, I think his points
should be treated seriously. To my mind two issues are raised:

is an adversarial or confrontational discussion ('exhaustion or
victory') entirely necessary? Are the objectives of discussion
merely to 'defeat' an opposition?

while one discussion is going on (on value), does every other
discussion have to stay off the lists?

Part of my procedural suggestion of my OPE:779 on January 11
was an attempt to see if we could devise procedures to offset,
at least partially, the limitations which these points of Paul
Z suggest.

As regards adversarial or confrontational discussion, I think
that while sharp exchanges are sometimes necessary, in general
there is a higher noise-to-signal ratio than strictly essential
in many E-Mail debates.

In part this is the consequence of the academic practice of
seeking only the negative in any theoretical contribution; I
suggest we need practices ('critical-historical method') which
allow us to identify the positive elements in each contribution,
first by having the whole thing in front of us ('cards on the
table') and second by collectively defining agreed conduct ('rules
of procedure') that ensure constructive engagement.

However I think an unnecessarily adversarial style is also
encouraged by the format of a free-flow E-Mail group. I think
that *short* exchanges (and as people will doubtless realise,
the European measure of short is rather different from the US
measure) help rapidly clarify points of difference in a
generally agreed framework, but as the value discussion shows,
where there are wide divergences you need something more in-

I am still concerned about the unstated OPE norm that short
contributions are better than long ones, especially given the US
definition of 'short' which seem to me on the vanishing side of
nano. I don't think this is a valid norm. I think various lengths
of contribution have their separate places and none should be a
priori excluded.

I think the underlying problem is one of timescale. The E-mail
format imposes the requirement of instant response. Long posts
are therefore obviously harder to handle because there is more
work to do in the same time (I believe it is called raising the
intensity of labour...)

An E-Mail group also imposes that if you fall out of a
discussion for a week, it is very difficult to re-enter.

Without a great deal of free time it is not possible even to absorb
and adequately respond to all the *short* contributions on OPE,
never mind the long ones. I consciously set aside time in January
after a long absence, but it won't last forever (about till end Feb):
and I'm sure other OPE members find similar constraints.

But there is no reason not to establish norms which consciously
introduce different timescales for different types of contribution
and response.

My procedural suggestion was a stab at dealing with all these
problems, in one go. It may not work, but I thought it was worth
suggesting, if only to focus more sharply on the issues.

It includes the possibility (First mooted way back by Paul C)
of two distinct types of contribution: short exchanges of the
type which now dominate, and longer 'discussion' contributions
around which the discussion proceeds at a different rate.

A very different picture emerges if longer 'think' contributions
are flagged as such and a period of a week or a fortnight - or even
longer - for responses is established.

While the rapid-fire exchanges on value theory are still in
progress, we could prepare another discussion on whatever you
are interested in, which is done like this: you prepare a short
resume of the issues you would like to introduce, complete with
a few references (enough that we can bone up on it in a couple
of weeks, say); you post this or place it on archive, or in
some way make it accessible; and OPE list members undertake,
over a reasonable period, to study it and prepare
(constructive) critical comments.

Or any other 'cards on the table' candidate could do likewise.

To clarify this in response to Andrew [OPE 897] and Gil [OPE
879 30/1/96] by a 'cards on the table' proposal I meant a
discussion paper of this type, for which the timescale was
different, with time set aside for different phases of
discussion [(i) reading and preparation of longer comments,
(ii) clear the decks for discussion]

I also had in mind contributions whose emphasis was on the
positive, rather than a restatement of criticisms. What I would
like to know from Gil is, what *is* the alternative procedure
for explaining exploitation? Whether or not I've understood or
responded, I think I've *heard* what Gil thinks is wrong. What
I want to know is what he thinks is right. Indeed, one of the
reasons I have held back on responding specifically to his
equivalence-critique of Marx is that I don't think I can
respond adequately or positively, until I know what it's for.
The only way it is possible to respond, given what is on the
table, is defensively and hence negatively, hence to launch
an adversarial debate. I enjoy such debates but I am also
concerned at their productiveness, which I think is low.

That's why I came at it obliquely, by questioning what Marx
actually says about price-value equivalence. So what I would
suggest is the kind of contribution he mentions at the end of
his post where he says:

"Two admittedly imperfect attempts to spell out Marx's
historical-strategic account of capitalist exploitation are
presented in my Ec & Phil article and my upcoming Science &
Society article. I'm writing a more comprehensive treatment now
and hope to have it available to those interested in a couple
of weeks or so."

This "comprehensive treatment" is the contribution I had in
mind, rather than his OPE:879 as such. This could be circulated
by some means to *all* list members, but instead of leaping in
the fray, we would read it, prepare comments on it, and then at
the allotted time discuss it, under the appropriate
confrontation-reducing rules of procedure.

Another such contribution, on the table now, is the paper by
Paul C and Allin Cottrell entitled 'Value's Law, Value's
Metric' which was posted early in the history of OPE. I think
this paper never really received a proper discussion though it
contains a number of novel and interesting ideas; and I think
the reason for this is the format imposed by an E-Mail group.
So we could have a prepared discussion around this, too.

However both these proposals merely extend the current value
debate. Maybe it would be easier for those such as Paul Z
himself perhaps, who want to re-introduce other concerns, to do
so by launching a new debate in the manner proposed. Jerry's role
as list moderator would be to co-ordinate and schedule the
various proposals so they don't overlap or conflict too much.

When we have a couple of such contributions, my suggestion is
that we schedule a proper discussion on it, rather than just
throwing it into the debate. This should be a disciplined
exercise, I tend to think; the value-jocks, or whoever is on
the air, should leave off for this period and the airwaves
opened for a prepared discussion of the given topic. Meanwhile
us value-freaks can be preparing our next salvo, exchanging
offlist, reading up on the previous debate to make sure we've
absorbed and replied to all the contributions, or even (Marx
forbid) taking a break.

Compuserve has regular events of this nature on various forums,
called 'conferences'; it may not work but I think it's worth a