[OPE-L:959] Re: Examples and texts

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 5 Feb 1996 14:43:47 -0800

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Andrew writes:

> In ope-l 935 and 939, Gil and Mike L., respectively, say similar things.
> Gil says that the temporal single-system ("sequential") interpretation
> of Marx's value theory may "repair" Marx, but wasn't what he said.
> Mike says that temporal examples which are consistent with Marx's
> conclusions and which show simultaneist conclusions are not consistent,
> don't constitute evidence supporting the temporal interpretation.
> I want to support what Alan said on this. In short, results speak for
> themselves.
> In slightly longer form: THE PARABLE OF THE JIGSAW PUZZLE
> A lot of people having been trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle. They
> fail and fail. Some suggest throwing out some pieces and trying again.
> Some try to use pieces from a different puzzle. Some decide people need
> to do a different puzzle.
> They fail.
> They blame the puzzle maker.
> Other people come along. They say, "the instructions say, "if 'joining
> the pieces' is equated with 'interlocking the pieces', there is always
> the possibility of error." This puzzle lets you join pieces by placing
> straight edges together. Look, we've done so, and the result is just
> like the picture on the cover of the box."
> Whose interpretation of the instructions is better? Does it matter
> that those who couldn't do the puzzle complain that this is an implausible
> interpretation?
> Replication of theoretical conclusions is itself textual evidence.

I'm not going to argue too strenuously about this, since I think the
temporal-single-system approach has interesting and insightful
properties, but there is another interpretation which Andrew's
parable leaves out.

It's increasingly evident to me that Marx had *two* hypotheses about
the connection between commodity prices and values, a "disaggregate"
one based on embodied labor values, and an "aggregate" one which
understands prices as claims on the total pool of living labor in a
given period. [This duality is suggested, but not captured, by
Morishima's treatment of value in his 1973 book.]
Marx referred to these hypotheses interchangeably, I
think, because he regarded them as mutually consistent. In my
reading, the "transformation problem" as presented in Volume III of
Capital is precisely Marx's attempt to demonstrate the consistency
between his disaggregate and aggregate hypotheses, i.e. an attempt to
show that the translation of embodied labor values into prices of
production preserves certain aggregate equivalences.

However, we know now that they are *not* in general consistent; this
may be the one true contribution of the Bortkiewicz-Sraffa-Steedman
tradition. Thus, if one is going to affirm Marx's value-theoretic
approach to understanding capitalism, one of the two hypotheses has
to go.

In one sense the easiest and most appropriate approach to jettison
is the disaggregate hypothesis, according to which Marx asserts,
repeatedly, that commodity prices are somehow "regulated" by their
corresponding values. This is also the hypothesis, I think, that
leads Marx to characterize price-value equivalence as the "pure" case
of commodity exchange (though issues around this question are still
being interactively explored with Alan).

Following the above, I see the Foley-Lipietz-Dumenil "new solution"
and the Freeman-Kliman-McGlone et al. "temporal single system"
approach as alternative approaches to supporting Marx's *aggregate*
hypothesis at the cost of his *disaggregate* hypothesis.

Thus, contrary to Andrew's first paragraph, I grant that Marx made
claims which are consistent and appear to support the TSS approach
(and I thank him and Alan for making me aware of many of these
passages). I also continue to find passages which are at best
severely problematic in their consistency with the TSS approach (I'm still
hashing this out with Andrew).

To rephrase the parable, I think the TSS approach gets the pieces to
fit by throwing out some of the pieces. But that's OK. I argue for
just such a resolution on very different grounds.

In solidarity, Gil Skillman